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Plate of escargot, with tongs and fork.

Escargot is a dish of cooked land snails, usually served as an appetizer. The word is also sometimes applied to the living snails of those species which are commonly eaten.

Escargot, IPA: [ɛskaʁɡo], is the French word for snail. It is related to Occitan escaragol[1] and Catalan cargol, which, in turn, may derive from a pre-Roman word *karakauseli[2].

Not all species of snail are edible, but many are. 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 are popular in Europe; see heliciculture.

Contents

History

Snail shells have been found in archaeological Florida, an indication that snails have been eaten since prehistoric times [3][4] A number of archaeological sites around the Mediterranean have been excavated yielding physical evidence of culinary use of several species of snails utilized as escargot.[5] The Romans, in particular, are known to have considered escargot as an elite food, as noted in the writings of Pliny. For example the species Otala lactea of edible snails has been recovered from Volubilis in present day Morocco.[6] 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 ancient civilisation.

Preparation

Escargot cooked with garlic and parsley butter in a shell (with a €0.02 coin, approx 19 mm across, as a scale object)
Escargot cooked with garlic and parsley butter outside of its shell

In Western culture, typically the snails are removed from their shells, gutted, cooked (usually with garlic butter or chicken stock) and then poured back into the shells together with the butter and sauce for serving, often on a plate with several shell-sized depressions. 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.

Like most mollusks, escargot is high in protein and low in fat content (if cooked without butter). It is estimated that escargot is 15% protein, 2.4% fat and about 80% water.[7].

Heliciculture

Because a typical snail diet includes decayed matter, carrion, and a wide variety of leaves, the contents of their stomachs can sometimes be toxic to humans. Therefore, before they are cooked, the snails are first prepared by purging them of the questionable 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. Farm-raised snails are typically fed a diet of ground cereals.

See also

References

  1. ^ Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition
  2. ^ Diccionari Barcanova de la Llengua. Editorial Barcanova, 2004.
  3. ^ Prehistoric edible land snails in the circum-Mediterranean: the archaeological evidence., D. Lubell. In J-J. Brugal & J. Desse (eds.), Petits Animaux et Sociétés Humaines. Du Complément Alimentaire Aux Ressources Utilitaires. XXIVe rencontres internationales d'archéologie et d'histoire d'Antibes, pp. 77-98. Antibes: Éditions APDCA.
  4. ^ Are land snails a signature for the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition? In, M. Budja (ed.), Neolithic Studies 11. Documenta Praehistorica XXXI: 1-24. D. Lubell.
  5. ^ 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 080204865X
  6. ^ C. Michael Hogan, Volubilis, The Megalithic Portal, ed. Andy Burnham (2007) [1]
  7. ^ Snail (escargot) nutritional value

External links

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