My favourite place in the world to enjoy escargot is in the little café across from Comedie Francaise in Paris. I always sit outside facing the theatre and the fountain. For me, it’s a place of memories combined with good wine and even better escargot.
They’re the traditional escargot stuffed with garlic butter. The French baguette comes already sliced; I tear bits from it and dip it into the butter that inevitably runs all over the dimpled plate. My tall champagne flute gets greasy from buttery fingers and crumbs end up all over the plate and my lap. Anyone walking by can tell I’m really enjoying my snails.
In Europe and parts of the United States there are farms that grow the most delicious snails but the reality is, most garden snails will do. My great uncle and his closest friend had a favourite spot they would go to and collect snails. Like a fisherman’s viciously guarded fishing spot, he would tell no one where he went.
He’d bring them home and the elaborate preparation would begin; the giant bucket, the rinsing, the salting, the cleaning and the cooking. It took a few days but in the end, they were glorious!
In our household, our snails were cooked in a combination of chicken stock and red wine. We ate them by the bowlful. No one in my family would ever think to eat 6 little snails on a plate like the French; no that just wouldn’t do. We had giant bowls, tiny forks, bread for dipping and an empty bowl within throwing distance for the shells. When I was in Greece, I ate bowlfuls of snails simmered in a rich tomato sauce and it reminded me of my great uncle and his love of the little slugs.
Snails are molluscs, like oysters and clams and whether you prefer garlic butter, red wine broth or tomato simmered, stay away from the snails served in a dimpled plate, covered with a thick layer of cheese. The cheese over powers the snails in both flavour and volume and overall the dish should make little sense to anyone with good taste.
While I don’t hunt for snails like my great uncle, I often buy a tin of snails and make my own. No, I have no shells to put them in, instead I simply put the snails in the bottom of a tiny roasting pan the size of a ramekin, top them with a slab of butter, minced garlic and a huge teaspoon of fresh parsley. I roast these, covered, for 10 to 15 minutes or until I can hear the butter bubbling away. I have a fresh chunk of baguette next to my glass of prosecco and it’s a quick, easy and glorious meal to make anytime.
Snails are very inexpensive to buy. I tin costs approximately $1.99. But beware, some of the escargot are the size of golf balls and you almost need a knife to cut them in half – these are awful! The best escargot are the size of an alley because then you get a good balance of the sauce flavours and the meaty, savoury, rich flavour of the snail. It’s a great balance that becomes heavenly when washed down with a sip of sparkling wine.
If you’re not into making your own snails, there’s no better place to enjoy a dish of delicious escargot than the Paris Crepes Bistro in Niagara Falls. Chef Thiery has perfected the perfect balance of parsley, garlic and seasonings that swim in a beautiful bath of French cultured butter. The restaurant is sultry Parisian, the food exceptionally fantastic and the chef wanders the table romancing his satisfied guests with stories of food in Paris told with a strong French accent. It’s the best escargot in the best setting!
Today is National Escargot Day. It’s a day to eat snails! It’s a day to toast to previous generations of snail lovers and it’s a day to vow to eat escargot more often! Happy Escargot Day!