Escargot (IPA: [ɛs.kaʁ.ɡo], French for snail) is a dish of cooked land snails, usually served as an appetizer in France and in French restaurants. The word escargot is also sometimes applied to the living snails of those species which are commonly eaten in this way.
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" Helix aspersa is also eaten, as is Helix lucorum. Several additional species, such as Elona quimperiana, are popular in Europe; see heliciculture.
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 used as escargot. 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 Volubilis in present-day Morocco. This archaeological recovery is from an era of Roman Empire occupation of this provincial capital, which site was known to embody a very highly developed ancientcivilization since its days as a Phoenician and Carthaginian colony. Recently, African land snails have been known to be edible.
Escargot cooked with garlic butter and parsley in a shell (with a €0.02 coin, about 19 mm across, as a scale object)
Escargot out of its shell
In French culture, 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 snail tongs (for holding the shell) and snail forks (for extracting the meat) are also normally provided, and they are served on indented metal trays with places for six or 12 snails.
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 the late 1980s, escargot represented a $300 million a year business in the United States. Farm-raised snails are typically fed a diet of ground cereals.
^A. Eastham, Alastair Small, Michael Ross MacKinnon, Stephen G. Monckton, David S. Reese, Robert J. Buck (2002) The Excavations of San Giovanni Di Ruoti: The Faunal and Plant Remains, University of Toronto Press, 232 pages ISBN 0-8020-4865-X
^C. Michael Hogan, Volubilis, The Megalithic Portal, ed. Andy Burnham (2007) megalithic.co.uk