Snails with Garlic Butter
The classic escargots à la bourguignonne, one of the standby first courses of most French restaurants, are easy to make at home, at a fraction of the cost. Snails are sold already cooked, cleaned, and canned, with their sterilized shells in a separate package. For heating and serving, the snails are usually put on metal or ovenproof snail plates that have indentations for the shells, but you can also put the shells on a bed of rock salt in small baking dishes, or just coat the snails well with the snail butter and bake them without the shells. Serve snails out of the shells on fried toast, or speared with cocktail picks, as an appetizer. Another good way to serve snails is in sautéed mushroom caps, which add a complementary texture and flavor.
Makes4 to 8 servings
Total Timeunder 4 hours
OccasionCasual Dinner Party, Formal Dinner Party
Taste and Texturebuttery, chewy, garlicky, herby, juicy, rich, savory, umami, winey
- 4 dozen canned snails with their shells
- ¼ pound soft (not melted) butter
- 2 to 3 tablespoons finely chopped shallots
- 2 or more garlic cloves, finely chopped, or 2 tablespoons garlic pureé
- ¼ cup chopped parsley
- Salt, freshly ground black pepper
- 1 to 2 cups dry white wine
Remove the snails from the cans and rinse them well under running water. Cream the butter with the shallots, garlic (the amount depends on how much you like garlic), parsley, and salt and pepper to taste. You can change the proportions of shallots, garlic, and parsley to suit your own preference. The garlic pureé gives a smoother, less strong flavor than raw garlic. Slip the snails into shells and cover them well with the garlic butter, pushing it into the shell and mounding it at the aperture. Chill in the refrigerator for a few hours so the butter penetrates and flavors the snails.
When ready to serve, arrange the shells in the hollows of snail plates and pour a teaspoon or two of white wine over each one. Put in a 450° oven for 10 minutes, until piping hot. Serve with plenty of French bread to mop up the butter, and snail tongs and forks to hold and extract the snails (or use oyster forks and protect your fingers with paper napkins while holding the hot shells). Allow half a dozen or a dozen per serving, according to your liking for snails, and the rest of the menu.
Snails in Mushrooms Caps: Sauté 4 dozen firm mushroom caps, about 1 inch across, in 6 tablespoons butter until just cooked through, but not soft. Arrange cup side up on a baking sheet or in individual baking dishes. Coat the snails well with the snail butter and put a snail in each cap. Sprinkle the tops with finely chopped walnuts and chopped parsley and heat through in a 450° oven for 10 minutes, until very hot. These may be served on rounds of fried toast.
1981 James Beard