The French have always been known for eating more challenging dishes, notably frogs legs and snails, than the anglo-saxons or les rosbifs. Oddly, in Paris at least, you see these two ingredients on menus less and less. You can buy snails in the markets, already prepared and stuffed back into their shells with a wad of garlic butter, but frog's legs are rarely for sale. My friend Laura gave me the address of snail farm on the northern edge of Burgundy and I went just to see how they were raised.
The snails, as my husband pointed out, are ranched. The farm consists of three large fenced green spaces or parcs were the snails "are sown", the eggs are imported from North Africa. As it was the almost the end of the season, the frost kills them off, there were only a few left in one of the parcs. In the photo you can see the snail farmer in the corner of the parc. The fence that surrounds it is topped with an electrically charged band to prevent the snails from escaping. Some seem more immune to the discomfort of an electric shock than others and make a bid to escape the cooking pot. They live and grow on the underside of wooden planks leant against long wooden trestles. They are feed a mixture of powdered grain and calcium and are kept moist with a sprinkler system.
Good-looking beasts they were too. Their feed gives them strong shells and a pleasant pale grey colour, while guaranteeing the quality of their meat. They are processed, removed from the shell, vacuum packed and sent mainly to Paris. We asked where we could eat them and our farmer listed several names, all famous chefs, including Robuchon and Ducasse. You can of course buy snails cooked in various bouillons, we chose Chablis, well we were in Burgundy, at the farm itself or by mail order. We took couple of jars with us and gave them to my friend Caroline, who is from Burgundy, to prepare. She bathed them in the traditional garlic butter, as seen here and they were as tasty as they look.
This really is the best way to eat them, forget stuffing them back into the shell, they are too damn hard to get out, even with the right utensils if you happen to have them. Save that challenge for eating them in a restaurant, where, if you are like me, you'll end up wearing more than you eat. All you need is good Burgundy wine and lots of bread to mop up the butter. And what do they really taste like? Well lesser beasts often taste of nothing but the butter and garlic and are chewy. These were earthy, tender and held their own against the garlic.
If you are in Paris just for a few days and don't have time to visit or mail order from Burgundy then visit La Maison de L'Escargot , which has been in the 15th arrondissement for over 100 years.