My husband associates New Year’s Eve with lobster and escargot. He grew up the son of a chef, and every year his family hosted a party to ring in the new year.
I was introduced to this tradition during my first holiday season after our engagement. With the ingredients laid out in front of me, I learned how to stuff the shells full of garlic butter, and of course, snails.
Escargot is usually served as an appetizer in Spain and France. In France, they are typically removed from shells and then prepared before returning them to the shells for presentation purposes. They are usually cooked with garlic butter and wine.
Other ingredients such as parsley and thyme may be added. Snails are very high in protein and low in fat, (when they’re cooked without butter, of course).
I wasn’t sure what to think when I tried my first sample. Everyone watched as I dug into the shell. It was delicious, but then again, how could something drenched in garlic and butter not be delicious?
It is easier than you might think to prepare this dish. You may have visions of scouring your garden on your hands and knees to find your snails, but that needn’t be the case at all. Escargot is conveniently sold in cans at your local specialty market or on Amazon.
Escal French Burgundy Escargots Snails, 3 dozen, available on Amazon
Of course, some people do choose to harvest their own backyard snails. If you are “lucky” enough to have your own snail infestation, you can find many tasty treats in your garden. My husband knows someone who used to harvest his own and they were supposedly delicious.
The meat may be a bit smaller, but they should taste just as good if not better than the canned variety.
If you decide to go this route, please check with your local wildlife agency to make sure your garden snails are not endangered, since the law prohibits the collection of threatened species. A few varieties can harbor parasites or nematodes that can affect humans as well (of course, the cooking process should kill them).
Roland Extra Large Snail Shells (3 dozen) found on Amazon
For an authentic dining experience, you can purchase shells to serve the snails in. These shells can be cleaned and reused. Simply place the used shells in a pot of water with some white vinegar. Bring the water to a boil and let the shells boil for for a few minutes. You may see the butter rise to the top of the pot.
The vinegar will work to cut the grease, and helps with removing the scent of the garlic. Once the shells have been boiled, carefully drain the pot, being sure not to let the butter residue coat the shells again. Place your shells on a dishcloth or paper towel and allow them to air dry.
If the shells still have a strong garlic smell once they are dry, then repeat the process. Store shells in an airtight container or large zip-top storage bag.
The typical serving plate features six compartments. This is the perfect size for serving up an appetizer for your guests. These plates are available in ceramic or stainless steel. Some of these specialty dishes feature a handle.
Escargot Snail Ceramic Plate with Handle found on Amazon
If you do not have an escargot serving dish, you can serve the snails on a bed of kosher salt. The salt helps to stabilize the shells on a dish or platter.
Be sure to have some crusty bread or baguette on hand, to sop up all of the delicious garlic butter that remains in the serving dish.
Spoon-shaped snail tongs are specifically designed to grasp the shells, so that you can use a cocktail fork to scoop out the delicious meat in the center. You will also need a thin cocktail fork in order to get to the meat. These tongs are an absolute must if you plan to eat the snails right out of the shell.
Escargot Stainless Steel Tongs on Amazon
Be sure to grasp the shell firmly. It may take some practice to get the technique just right, but the correct tool will hold the shell securely so you can enjoy each savory bite.
My kids always look forward to special occasions, which we celebrate by enjoying a lovely dinner preceded by escargot.
Explore more to French cooking classics by checking out our article on the cuisine here.
About Jennifer Swartvagher
Jennifer is an experienced journalist and author. Her work has been featured on TODAY Parents, The New York Times Blog, BlogHer, Scary Mommy, and scores of other parenting and cooking publications.