The escargot (plural escargots, IPA: [ɛs.kaʁ.ɡo], French for snail) is a delicacy consisting of cooked land snails. Escargots are usually served as a starter in France, Spain, and Portugal, Sardinia and are a typical dish in Crete, Greece, Catalonia and in North African countries such as Morocco and Algeria. The word escargot is also sometimes applied to the living snails of those species which are commonly eaten in this way.
Escargot, meaning "edible snail", seems to date from 1892 and derives from the word escaragol (Provençal) and thence escargol (Old French), ultimately from Vulgar Latin coculium, from Classical Latin conchylium, from Ancient Greek konchylion (κογχύλιον), meaning "edible shellfish, oyster". The Online Etymological Dictionary writes, "The form of the word in Provençal and French seems to have been influenced by words related to scarab."
Not all species of land snail are edible, and many are too small to make it worthwhile to prepare and cook them. Even among the edible species, the palatability of the flesh varies from species to species.
In France, the species Helix pomatia is most often eaten. The "petit-gris" Cornu aspersa is also eaten, as is Helix lucorum. Several additional species, such as Elona quimperiana, are popular in Europe; see heliciculture.
Apple snails (Pila Polita) are also consumed in Asia and can be found in Asian markets in North America; a nutritional analysis shows them to be a good source of protein.
Snail shells have been found in archaeological excavations, indicating snails have been eaten since prehistoric times. A number of archaeological sites around the Mediterranean have been excavated yielding physical evidence of culinary use of several species of snails.
The Romans in particular are known to have considered escargot an elite food, as noted in the writings of Pliny. The edible species Otala lactea has been recovered from the Roman-era city Volubilis in present-day Morocco. More recently, African land snails have been known to be edible.
In French cuisine, the snails are typically purged, killed, removed from their shells, and cooked (usually with garlic butter, chicken stock or wine), and then placed back into the shells with the butter and sauce for serving. Additional ingredients may be added, such as garlic, thyme, parsley and pine nuts. Special tongs for holding the shell and forks for extracting the meat are also normally provided, and they are served on indented metal trays with places for six or 12 snails.
In Cretan cuisine the snails are first boiled in white wine with bay leaves, celery and onion and then coated with flour and fried with rosemary and vinegar.
Like most molluscs, escargots are naturally high in protein and low in fat content. Escargots are estimated to contain 15% protein, 2.4% fat and about 80% water.
The snails are first prepared by purging them of the likely undesirable contents of their digestive systems. The process used to accomplish this varies, but generally involves a combination of fasting and purging or simply feeding them on a wholesome replacement. The methods most often used can take several days. Farms producing Helix aspersa for sale exist in Europe and in the United States. In both regions, escargot are considered a delicacy. Farm-raised snails are typically fed a diet of ground cereals.
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- Hard as snails
- Goodyear, Dana (August 15, 2011). "Grub". The New Yorker.
- National Day Calendar (2016). "National Escargot Day – May 24". National Day Calendar. Retrieved April 9, 2016.
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- Snail (escargot) nutritional value
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