02 March 2007

Benito vs. the Gastropod: Escargot

First off, sorry for the long week without posts. My real job has been taking up most of my free time. However, on the way home I picked up a certain treat I'd had my eye on for a while: escargot.

While I've consumed other members of the class Gastropoda (abalone and conch), somehow I'd never gotten around to the humble snail. Snails never showed up on the childhood table, and whenever I've encountered them in a restaurant I wasn't really interested in paying $25 for a plate of something that might better be regarded as bait in these parts. But I've been reading more about snails recently, and apparently they're one of the first animals ever farmed by humans, and there are ancient archaeological sites full of huge snail shell middens.

The Fresh Market on White Station had them for 69¢ each. Previously frozen, stuffed with a greenish mix of butter and herbs and garlic. I figured it was an excellent chance to give them a try and bought a half dozen. Each snail was about 1½ inch across. I posed them for the photo to take advantage of the beautiful patterns on the shell, but obviously when cooking I moved the foil and positioned the snails in order to keep the "cup" upright so none of the butter would spill out. Bake at 400° for a few minutes until the butter bubbles, and then remove.

I don't own an escargot fork (really, it hasn't ever come up before), but I used the tip of a thin knife to prise the snails from their shells. I managed to get each out in one piece without breaking the shells, though one required a little coaxing with a toothpick. And what of the first snail? I gave it a good chew and a swallow, and it was sinfully delicious. I gobbled down the remaining five and used a crust of bread to sop up the remaining butter/herb/garlic mixture that had pooled on the plate... and on my fingers. The snails tasted much more like shellfish than something you'd pick off your tomato plants, but with the dark savory texture that you get from smoked oysters. Not slimy at all, and while the sauce was strong, it was still possible to adequately taste the meat.

Will I eat these again? I'm resisting the urge to drive back out to East Memphis right now. Will I serve them at a dinner party? Probably not. I have a hard enough time convincing people to eat raw oysters, or not to get ill if I eat them in public. I do think that next time I'm going to get a dozen, have a simple salad, a good white Burgundy, and maybe I'll even drop a few bucks and get that escargot fork.


Alaina said...

I will eat snails with you anytime, Benito. If they're half as good as oysters, I'll be elated.

I've alway been nervous about snails, but your description sounds delightful. I can't wait to stuff some in my face.

Jen said...

I love, love, love escargot! The best I've ever had can be found (or used to be) at The Prime Rib in Washington, DC. Heaven! I am a bit bummed I didn't read this yesterday before going to Fresh Market but I'll keep them in mind next time I venture over there. Thanks for the review!

Allen said...

Good review and sorry you never had them as a child. You must have lived a very sheltered life. The Fresh Market does have a support group for those of us that go there more than 3 times a week.

Keep up the good reviews on food and wine.

Goed Appetit

Barbara said...

I've only eaten them once and they were overpowered by garlic.

Collin C. said...

We recently tried some we found @ Shcnuck's. They were canned but still good. We will have to check out the ones at FM, too.

We had our first taste of the little slimies at Cafe Aix in Jacksonville, FL. We were in love at first bite.

Benito said...

Wow, I never would have guessed this would have been a popular topic. I picked up another half dozen today (couldn't get anyone to join me), and they were just as great as the first time.