If you have never been to France before and are heading there soon, many culinary opportunities will be presented to you that you do not want to pass up. As you sit in that first French restaurant that you visit and begin to gaze at that menu, your eyes will catch an item not usually listed on menus in most other countries, especially the United States. That menu item my friends, is the iconic Snails appetizer. The French love snails. It is one of the most popular food items in France.
There was actually a time in the United States in the late 1970’s when many chefs who were trained in Europe began serving snails in Continental restaurants. The alternate name for land snails is escargot, which is how it was always listed on United States menus. However, snails have pretty much vanished from United States menus and are mostly now just served in France, although there are other places in the world where you can find them.
On our recent visit to Paris, we tried an order of snails as an appetizer. We visited a very good restaurant in the Latin Quarter named Le Bar à Huîtres. The restaurant is located only about ten minute walk form the Notre-Dame Cathedral. The restaurant listed the snails as an appetizer described as six large Burgundy Snails. While I was waiting for the snails, the waiter brought over a plate and a set of tools, or should I say silverware. One piece was a miniature set of tongs, while the other piece of silverware was a tiny fork.
It only took about ten minutes from the time we ordered until the moment the waiter brought us our snails The snails were lined six in a row on a bed of crystal salt. The shells of the snails were hot which signified the reason behind the tongs. There were also a bit slimy so the tong served a dual purpose in holding the shell, while I surgically removed the meat.
The sail meat was covered in a green sauce. It was not the most appetizing sight in the world. Before I took my first bite, I decided that there was probably a good reason the snails were presented on a bed of salt. I poured some salt on the snail and swallowed it whole. My son stared at me with a sort of evil smirk on his face waiting for me to start choking or make some kind of suffering noise. However, to his disappointment and surprise, he saw me smile after the first bite. The snails were absolutely delicious. The texture of the snail fell somewhere in between that of a muscle, a clam, and a shrimp. It was very tender, but there was a definite chewable substance to the snail. The green sauce was a combination of garlic, butter and burgundy wine. The salt helped bring out the flavor of the snails. However, too much salt ruined the flavor. By the time I got to my third snail, I had figured out the correct balance of slat and snail. My third snail ended up being my last snail because when my son saw how much I was enjoying the snails, he decided to eat the the last three. The fact that a sixteen year old born and raised in New York was eating snails in France and enjoying them, is proof enough that when in France, have some snails!