Escargot is still be an unknown dish to many, but those who have tasted it understand what a delicacy the Helix pomatia snail can be when prepared professionally and served with a rich, butter sauce. But what does escargot actually taste like?
Escargot’s taste and texture resemble those of clams. Snails are often said to taste like fish or chicken, with an earthiness reminiscent of mushrooms. For the most part, however, the snail takes on the flavor of the butter or sauce with which it is cooked.
With 700 million snails eaten annually in France alone, the dish of escargot isn’t a passing fancy. In this article, we’ll talk about why and how people eat snails, how it’s prepared, and whether or not escargot is good for you.
Do Snails Taste like Mussels?
It’s a question that is often asked, given the physical appearance of the plated snails. The meals look similar and are prepared almost the same, which makes people expect that the taste will be the same as well.
To set the record straight, snails tend to take on the taste of the sauces used to prepare them. The most common recipes include garlic, butter, and wine or vinegar, depending on the chef preparing the meal.
To soak up all the goodness of the rich sauces that accompany escargot, the meal is often served with slices of bread.
Mussels, on the other hand, have a mild but distinctive taste to them. They taste like the sea, are soft, and have a tender chewiness. But, similar to escargot, mussels are also prepared using different ingredients that improve on and enhance their flavor.
Do you Chew Escargot?
Escargot, like any other seafood, should be chewed. The snails are firm and meaty, which may seem surprising since their physical appearance makes them look soft and slimy.
However, when eating this meal for the first time, some people prefer swallowing a fork-full of escargot without chewing. It’s common for the first-timers due to their misconception that the snails are slimy.
While swallowing without chewing may seem like an easy way to get them down, this method doesn’t allow a diner to experience the complete taste of the escargot. Plus, you wouldn’t want to risk choking on it.
Why do People Eat Escargot?
According to research carried out by PLOS One, people have been eating snails for the last 30,000 years.
While, to some, escargot might just be a tradition that’s been passed down through generations, it is also associated with “premium” dining and high social class in some places, which may be why the meal is often pricey.
In addition, there are several characteristics of snail that make it a healthy meat to eat.
Escargot Has Great Nutritional Value
Here’s a quick run-down of some of the nutritional attributes of snail:
- The low-fat content
- Minimal carbs
- Excellent source of protein
- Less commonly an allergen (than crustaceans)
According to nutrition data, depending on how you cook them, snails are an excellent source of protein and contain low fats. It also contains Vitamin E, Zinc, Calcium, and Iron. One 4-oz serving of escargot contains 18 grams of protein.
Given the small size of the snail, it’s impressive to see how much protein it packs!
Snails are also high in tryptophan, a chemical that releases serotonin that is responsible for regulating our moods. With no sugar and a tiny amount of carbohydrates, escargot is a perfect meal that contains little calories. A 3-ounce of escargot contains only 76 calories.
However, watch out for the buttery sauces – that’s where a healthy meal of snails can take a turn for the worse!
How to Prepare Escargot
If you’re a hands-on kind of person and would like to prepare escargot in your kitchen, the following steps will come in handy. If you’re the restaurant type, you may still find this interesting, so you know what the chef is doing behind the scenes.
It’s not as complicated a procedure as you might think, and with a little help, you can serve escargot to your friends or family in no time. Let’s talk about choosing the snails first.
The snails are cooked while they are alive. They are first rinsed in saltwater to remove their slime. The rule of thumb is to never cook a dead snail. If you suspect the snail is not moving, try to poke it to provoke a reaction. If there is no movement, don’t attempt to cook the snail.
What You Need To Know About Fresh Snails
You may think it is preferable to cook freshly-caught snails, but this isn’t the case.
The majority of a snail’s diet doesn’t agree with the human digestive system. That is why most chefs will starve their snails before preparing, to allow for any toxins to be eliminated from the snails.
So, it’s best to ask the seller when the snails were caught, which might give you a rough estimate on when they last ate and when you can prepare them.
The general rule of thumb is that it is safe to consume snails that were harvested a week before you bought them.
Experts have recommended “purging” snails or feeding these snails with food that agrees with the human digestive system, such as pieces of apple or grape leaves, which helps to eliminate the toxic substance within them.
How to Clean the Snails
Before cooking, you should adhere strictly to effective snail cleaning steps. This way, the meal will not be irritating and can be consumed easily. The entire cleaning process is not for the faint-hearted or people with delicate stomachs.
Around 50 snails will suffice for a meal of 12 people. The more snails, the better.
- Place the snails inside a pot with a mixture of salt, water, and vinegar to help remove their waste. This step is preferred if you have bought the snails right from the boat or have harvested them yourself.
- Remove the membrane covering the shell opening with a sharp knife.
- Fill a pot with fresh water and put the snails in the pot.
- Discard any snails that float to the top of the pot.
- Using your fingers, rub two to three snails at a time and work your way through the batch.
- After cleaning the entire batch, throw away the water and refill the pot with fresh water. Repeat the rubbing step again.
- Rinse the snails completely.
After you have cleaned the snails, it’s time to move on to the ingredients. Depending on the taste you want for the snails, there are different ingredients that you can use. Let’s look at the common ones.
- 1 peeled and separated head of garlic
- 12 slices of baguette
- ½ cup of white wine (110 ml)
- Salt and pepper
- 1 thinly sliced shallot
- 4 ounces of butter (112 g)
- 1 ounce of parsley leaves
Combine the white wine, shallot, and the snails in a small sauté pan and bring it to simmer. After cooking for 15 minutes, drain the snails and set them apart.
Combine parsley and garlic inside the food processor until they are finely chopped. Afterward, add butter to the mixture and process. The result should be a green, smooth paste. For taste, make sure you season with pepper and salt.
If you have reserved the snail shells, place the snails back into them. Then use the parsley butter to stuff the remaining spaces in the shells.
Put the snails inside the baking dish and into a preheated oven to broil. Wait until the butter is sizzling. The escargot is ready to serve with the bread.
If you don’t have the snail shells: put the baguette slices lined in a sauté pan. Add butter and place the pan over high heat. After the butter has liquefied, add the snails, and let it sizzle. Serve immediately.
Escargot, as a dish, is becoming more popular thanks to its cultural and nutritional value. The delicacy is commonly served in restaurants that specialize in seafood, and those that serve European meals.
While it is a refined meal, but requires mostly basic ingredients. If cooking them at home, it does take careful preparation to ensure proper handling and cooking.
As for the taste – choose a sauce you enjoy, as the snails take on the richness and flavor of the ingredients they are baked in.
Other sources about Escargot:
What is Escargot? – Spoon University
What does Escargot taste like? – eaterBOX