Necessity may be the mother of invention, but desperation must be the mother of cuisine. How else to explain the eating of crustaceans, sea urchins, or—yuckamundo—snails? Where I grew up in Montana, we used lethal bait to kill the darn snails. And as far as I knew, “escargot” was pronounced “S-Car-Got.” Never did I dream they would become a desired culinary delicacy.
Sous Chef has been a proponent of escargot since I met him. Although adventuresome by nature, I am much more so today than when we met and the idea of eating slimy things that slinked around the garden or were found on the pavement after a rainstorm was totally unappealing. As much as I wanted to impress Sous Chef, it would have to be someway other than gulping a passel of snails.
My resistance to eating escargot changed, as many things seem to do, when we visited France. Sous Chef and I were walking near the Pont Neuf in search of an “authentic” French bistro when I was captivated by the tantalizing aroma of melted butter and garlic wafting through the Parisian air, beckoning all who were within nose distance. Without delay, we hustled the few steps to a charming Parisian bistro from which the aroma emanated. We were graciously welcomed and seated at a prime table. Before long, and with nary a trepidation on my part, a warm, crusty baguette was brought to the table accompanied by a platter of little shells glistening in a buttery garlic sauce. Tiny little forks were provided to retrieve the tasty little morsels reposing inside the shells. Once retrieved, the tender morsels were dipped into the luxurious garlic butter sauce and consumed in one ravenous bite. Who knew how tender and tasty escargot could be? Or how, as Sous Chef promised, a subsidiary treat was found by soaking a bite of bread in the savory sauce before eating it. It was at that dinner alongside the River Seine that I vowed to master the art of escargot at home. .
I am a huge fan of Julia Child and the “Live Like Julia Project” has brought to the forefront of my mind how many similarities there are in my life to Julia’s. Alright, there are lots of differences also, and certainly more differences than similarities, but who is counting? So let’s talk about the similarities and let’s do so in the present tense since she is so much a part of my life.
Julia is tall, exceptionally so, and I am tall. Julia speaks in a high-pitched voice and over the telephone my voice has been confused frequently with that of a teenager. We each enjoy travel and the art of fine wine and food. We both have this insane, burning passion when it comes to the kitchen, cooking, and learning everything that you can about those passions. Julia had a similar epiphany with her first bite of escargot in Paris as recounted in the book “My Life in France” by Alex Prudhomme, and also vowed to master this delicacy at home. I can go on, but will save that for another post since I’ve dedicated the month of September to “Live Like Julia.”
My first experience with escargot at home was all wrong. I thought the secret to great escargot was in the wine and added way too much wine to the butter and garlic mixture. (If you are wondering, I occasionally am a little stubborn and impatient and may have refused to look up the proportions or did this on a whim and was too frantic to take a time out and look it up.) Over the years, I found that the secret to great escargot at home consists of two things: first, buy high quality snails and make sure to thoroughly rinse and drain them and, second, be French and use lots and lots of butter and garlic!!! I am now completely confident in preparing and serving escargot – so much so that I served it to my guests at the Julia Child 100th Birthday Party Celebration I held last year in her honor.
If you have not tried escargot, I hope you Live Like Julia and try it! Trust me, you will like it!
The more that I “Live Like Julia” this month, the more I am considering extending this lifestyle change permanently. After all, I will still have Julia’s 10 Rules to live by to keep me motivated.
- 1 stick (1/4 lb.) butter
- 1 to 2 cloves mashed garlic
- 2Tb minced fresh parsley
- Salt, pepper, and lemon juice
- Optional: 1 to 2 Tb very finely minced fresh pork fat
- Cream butter until fluffy (using a wooden spoon and mixing bowl or electric mixer). Beat in the garlic and parsley, salt, pepper, and lemon juice to taste, and add optional pork fat (which fortifies butter in oven, and gives added flavor).
- Baking and Serving
- (Preheat oven to 450 degrees.)
- Bake in the middle level of oven for about 10 minutes, until butter is bubbling out of snail shells. Serve immediately, accompanied by hot French bread and a young red wine, such as Beaujolais or Mountain red.
- Place a bit of meat on a bit of French bread, pour the butter over and eat. When you’ve eaten all the snails, sop up the remaining garlic butter in the plate with bits of French bread.