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What is Escargot?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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One of the most famous dishes in French cuisine is escargot, a preparation of snails that can be served with a variety of sauces. Some American consumers find the thought somewhat disconcerting, as snails are not associated with food in the United States. Americans eat other mollusks, however, such as abalone, and some adventurous diners do try snails at least once for the experience. When well prepared, their flavor and texture can be quite delightful, and they have been enjoyed in many Mediterranean nations for centuries.

While people who are not from France think that the word refers to a specific dish, in fact it is a generic term for edible snails. The most common preparation is boiling or steaming, and the snails are often served in the shell on a special plate that has small depressions for each shell. Diners use tongs to extract the flesh from the shell, along with small two-tined snail forks, and then dip the snail into the sauce provided. A garlic and butter sauce is the most common, but wine sauces and others are not unusual.

Snails can be collected in the wild or farmed for prepared escargot. Farmed snails are fed on a mixture of green and dried foods, with some producers preferring dried food because it is less messy than fresh greens. Some cooks also feed the snails herbs like dill to give them a delicate flavor. Either way, the snails must go through a period of fasting that usually lasts for one week before being prepared to cleanse their intestines, which can make the dish turn bitter if not completely emptied. During the fasting period, the creatures are kept in wooden ventilated boxes and food is withheld. The snails are gently washed every other day in running water, which stimulates them to empty their guts.

Some cooks salt their snails, producing a large amount of foam that removes the last of their impurities. Others simply throw the snails into salted boiling water for cooking before draining them and bringing them to the table to eat, either as an appetizer or an entree. Simmering the snails in a white wine can also add to the flavor, and in addition to being served plain, escargot can be tossed with pasta or used to stuff vegetables for appetizers.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a DelightedCooking researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon989194 — On Feb 23, 2015

This dish looks appetizing, but I would feel very strange eating one of my favorite animals. It's laughable, but almost everyone chooses what animals they will and will not eat based entirely emotional reasons. It's simply the same reason I don't eat cats,dogs,horses or goats. Different strokes for different folks.

By anon285648 — On Aug 16, 2012

This is something I will never try. I actually never knew people ate snails - coming from a person who lives in New Zealand. It wasn't until I was given a 12-week assignment to complete about French cuisine and because this dish totally caught my attention I have decided to use it! I'm amazed to know that so many people eat them.

By anon269847 — On May 19, 2012

I'll stick to a vegan diet. All vegetables are kosher and they sure are a lot less work to prepare, even when you grow them yourself. Snails aren't kosher, and they have a digestive system with poo in it. I don't think any amount of "purging" is going to clean it all out. I'm just sayin'.

By anon262811 — On Apr 21, 2012

You can tell the Americans from the internationals just by reading a few words. The Americans are typically ignorant, arrogant, unintelligent, insanely overly politically correct for no apparent reason. Like others have said, your meat is slaughtered and vegetables are poisoned far more viciously than this.

Also, the American government plays with its citizens by adding chemicals to the food, so how is eating a snail any different? I'm going to try snails Cantonese this evening for the first time, and you know what? I'm American and ashamed to be after seeing these posts.

By anon193098 — On Jul 03, 2011

Don't interpret the lead article the wrong way. A few days without food is no time at all for a snail. What do you think they eat during the cool winter months? The answer is: nothing at all. The cool water in which they are washed makes them 'go' -it's an involunary reaction to the cool water, exactly what they do when it starts to rain. It ensures that they don't become dehydrated. If there's no rain, they won't go to the bathroom. If there is no rain, they only come out in the very early mornings to soak up the morning dew and then go to a dark, cool place. Ever see a snail out basking in the warm summer sun? No!

And I've never actually known anyone who salts their snails while alive, but who knows, they're probably the same sadists who eat veal. As with any shellfish, place them in the freezer for a few minutes to put them to sleep before cooking them. Snails are delicious!

By anon172074 — On May 02, 2011

Snails are delicious! They should cook for only a few moments in the shallot/garlic butter. Perhaps a splash of white wine as well.

A lot of people ruin them by cooking them too long so they become rubbery or by adding a gross amount of garlic. Cooked properly, they should have the consistency of a gently cooked mushroom. The garlic should just kiss the snails for flavor, not overwhelm them.

There are many ways to cook escargot (which only means snail, not a specific dish). Try some with just a bit of butter at first so you can really appreciate their very delicate flavor.

By anon142273 — On Jan 12, 2011

I was wondering if snails have any nutritional value, because I have been craving snails of late?

By anon136510 — On Dec 22, 2010

I live in Malaysia and I love escargots. Do you think I can use my garden snails? The snails in my garden have a pointed shell as oppose to rounded tip. Can anyone comment on that?

By anon122401 — On Oct 27, 2010

I had escargot for the first time about two weeks ago. I had my best friend eat one first lol and when she said they were not chewy i ate the rest of them with no problem. they were quite yummy, but could not get my mother to try one. can't say i will eat them again because of thinking of what they really are.

By anon117292 — On Oct 10, 2010

It doesn't sound cruel to the snail but cruel to ourselves. Do you really find it delicious or do you think that it seems delicious? Also they put juice of snails that remained in the bowl which they put snails before cooking it. Of course I respect to every cuisine because that is their tradition but I just wanted to say my own idea.

By anon101599 — On Aug 04, 2010

Do the snails need to be boiled alive, or could you behead them first then cook? I like the idea of trying snails but not the desiccating them alive in salt or boiling. Call me a hypocrite but I don't like the idea of the little cute snails suffering if it can be done more humanely.

By anon90234 — On Jun 15, 2010

I'm enjoying my snails as we speak. First, I melted a lot of butter, threw in a ton of garlic and mushrooms, then let that cook. Then, I added parsley, green onions, and cilantro. I splashed in a very small amount of milk and some EVOO.

After all that, I put my snails in a pan and poured on my sauce, then stuck them in the oven for 15 minutes. Voila! Delicious snails. Yum, yum, yum. I must say, I outdid myself. Haha. Very easy, and delicious recipe.

By mDickinson — On May 03, 2010

Eww, snails look funny. Eww, they're icky! Ewww, let me have a Happy Meal. If you went to a slaughter house you'd never eat a hamburger again. Grow up, McDonald's generation. Snails are delicious!

By anon77182 — On Apr 13, 2010

When one has the absolute perfection of steak and potatoes, why should one root around in the dirt for snails? Silly French! They will eat anything and call the rest of us barbarians!

By anon76637 — On Apr 11, 2010

We just came back from visiting France, and we tried escargot in a fancy expensive restaurant. I did not like them at all - the taste was not so bad, but the texture in my mouth was quite unpleasant. I ended up having to gracefully spit it back into my napkin and take a large mouthful of yummy goat cheese to get rid of the sensation. Epic fail!

By anon73686 — On Mar 29, 2010

I will not be trying these, just like I would never eat brain or tongue. Yucko!

By anon73574 — On Mar 28, 2010

most americans do not known how to eat or they do not want to try anything beside steak and mashed potato.

By anon63820 — On Feb 03, 2010

Cruel to the snail? That's pathetic! They are delicious when cooked with shallots or garlic and butter--just don't overcook 'em or they get rubbery. 5 minutes at 375 degrees and, voila! Serve with a nice crusty bread. Yum!

By anon58334 — On Jan 01, 2010

I think he has to first eat crap on a bun to compare the flavor difference, don't you?

I wonder if he has actually eaten crap on a bun and how was it prepared -- was it steamed or broiled?

And also is it just an appetizer or is it a meal?

By anon51518 — On Nov 06, 2009

Snails taste like crap in a bun.

By anon49256 — On Oct 19, 2009

My question is has anyone ever tried conch before? It is also a snail. If you have which one do you prefer more escargot or conch, and why?

By anon37316 — On Jul 18, 2009

I was very nervous the first time i had to eat snails but once you get over the taboo about them and fix them with a compound butter. They are delicious, just like people with caviar.

By girishkhare — On Jun 18, 2009

this is an answer for 3469... Pastis is an anise-flavored liqueur that is normally the drink people have while eating escargot or oysters...it's yum..

By anon27545 — On Mar 02, 2009

is snail in the meat category?

By anon25596 — On Jan 31, 2009

omg!i don't really even like snails when they are alive! to think of eating them and im reading scary stories, so that's even worse!!!! o well, if you like them, go head and eat them.

By anon23387 — On Dec 23, 2008

Cruel to snails? Do you eat meat? Go visit a cow slaughterhouse one day, or a chicken farm. That is way more cruel. You can't pull out that card without being a hypocrite unless you are a vegetarian.

By anon17165 — On Aug 23, 2008

what's cruel about it? Don't we kill plants and butcher them with everything else people eat. Most vegetables are living and would survive and reproduce had we not cut them off and take their reproductive organs (seeds) out to eat. What do you think is worse, taking their meat or chopping their reproductive organs off. Being a male, I'd rather die than be castrated.

By anon12670 — On May 11, 2008

Just had some for Mothers Day and I must say I will eat it again. Very meaty and tasty. Culinary Adventurist

By anon12251 — On May 02, 2008

I love the taste of snails. As a kid I use to step on them but now, wow, I enjoy eating them more. Yes, I am an American.

The post earlier by anon2804, if you are a meat eater, you should find out what they do with that meat on your table and you will see that it's no different than how they prepare the snails for a great dish.

By bigmetal — On Mar 03, 2008

escargot is all about the sauce my friends! i had it once, and the texture is no picnic. but the sauce was good. it just proves that if you have a delicious sauce on it, you can eat just about anything!

By anon9221 — On Mar 02, 2008

I am told that escargot is really good. But Im not sure if I should eat it. just the thought of eating a snail is a huge turn off for me.

By anon7792 — On Feb 02, 2008

Wow, yeah, I agree with the first post. This sounds extremely cruel to a largely harmless little animal. I don't like the idea of starving a creature for several days before its death, just so it's digestive remnants don't throw off the flavor of its meat to our tongues! The preparation of snails sounds very inhumane. Never mind, I don't think I want to try them anymore!

By anon6024 — On Dec 13, 2007

this is great

By anon6002 — On Dec 12, 2007

hey this is great i was writing a 500 word esay and this info helped me finish

grade 9 student gss

By anon3469 — On Aug 31, 2007

If I were traveling in France and eating escargot in restaurants, what wine would I be having with the meal? Would it be a dry white? What are the names of the wines I might order? Chardonnay, a white Beaujolais, what would it be called?

I am writing a poem about a guy doing work around his house but daydreaming of traveling through France and gorging himself on fine cuisine. But I don't know what he would order with his snails.

By anon2804 — On Jul 26, 2007

It sounds cruel to the snail. I thought I was willing to try snails until I read the article. Now, much as I dislike them and what they do to my plants, I can't bear the thoughts of man being cruel to something to make food. I guess this is too much info for me!

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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