You’ll have to come out of your shell and display bravery in order to enjoy today’s food holiday. May 24 is National Escargot Day!
Escargot, in case you aren’t aware, is the French word for snails. Land snails, to be exact. They are considered a delicacy in France, and have been a staple of man’s diet for thousands of years. Archaeological digs have uncovered prehistoric caves filled with snail shells, indicating that early man enjoyed dining on the slimy little creatures. Gasp! What Neanderthals! Even when hunting and gathering expanded to include fish, game, and Big Macs, some cultures continued to enjoy snails as part of their cuisine, particularly Greeks and Romans, who considered them not just sustenance, but a delicacy. Kind of like the way we view lobster and caviar today.
There are more than 100 varieties of edible snail worldwide, though two are typically used in the preparation of escargot: Helix Aspersa (or “Petit-Gris”) and Helix Pomatia (“Burgundy snail”). In France, snails are so popular they’ve got their own hunting season. Not all types are edible, though. Some taste unpleasant, while others are poisonous. Snails tend to take on the flavor of whatever they have eaten recently, and can actually become poisonous if they have eaten a poisonous plant, so they are typically “purged” (forced to undergo fasting) for 5-6 days before cooking. They are then removed from their shells, cooked with garlic, butter, and wine, and often placed back into the shells for serving, along with the fragrant cooking sauce and butter.
All of this might turn your stomach, but I have actually tried escargot before. In fact, I consider myself a big fan. During my very first trip to Portland in the early 1990s, I tried escargot at a seafood restaurant, and loved it. Tara, naturally, was less enthusiastic about eating snails. I wanted to make my own, but very few local supermarkets carry snails, it turns out. We tried a bunch of different places, including some European and Asian markets, but came up empty. So we turned to Yelp, and found some suggestions for escargot in Portland. What the heck, it was Friday night – we decided to go ahead and make an evening of it. So we headed to the Hawthorne District to check out Chez Machin, a French creperie that looked promising (and promised escargot). And, they delivered! Now I have to give props to Tara. It is well documented that she is a picky eater, and that has proven to be the case many times during this food challenge. But sometimes she surprises me, and tonight was one of those times. Because she ended up liking the snails. Go figure! (They were pretty tasty, and the garlic butter made a great sauce for dipping that awesome French bread in, too).