I was around 12 years old the first time that I tried escargots, edible snails that I consider ambassadors of French gastronomy. The most famous preparation of this dish is à la Bourguignonne, traditional to the region of Burgundy, where the plumpest snails, escargots de Bourgogne, are found. The snails are baked in a sauce of butter, chopped parsley and minced garlic, and presented as a dozen or half-dozen nestled in an indented plate rather than in their shells (probably to appease hesitant first-timers).
Confession: When I was younger, I had to be tricked into trying snails.
The dark, wrinkled knots certainly aren’t visually appealing. No kid in their right mind would dare try them. I was told that they were mussels, so I could not confuse them with the garden snails that ate through our mail. You can imagine the shock when I found out exactly what I was eating. Now, every time I smell the famous garlic-butter-parsley combo, memories of my first experience with snails are evoked.
In France, escargots are delicacies eaten on special occasions. They rose to popularity after their codification by Carême, the ‘founder’ of French gastronomy. He used French to name dishes by ingredient and geography as exemplified by escargots à la Bourguignonne, cementing in history the snail’s significance in French cuisine despite the fact that the tradition of eating snails likely began with the Romans.
I am grateful for Carême’s codification of the snail as it ensures that every time I order escargots à la Bourguignonne, I will receive delectable morsels prepared in exactly the same manner as the last.