Gavin Greig (ggreig) wrote,
Gavin Greig
ggreig

Escargot Cult

After a gap of some years, Butler and Co. (the delicatessen in Church Street) are stocking tinned snails again. Hurrah!

I am an infrequent consumer of snails, but have enjoyed them both in France and at The Vine Leaf. The first time was on the school French exchange in 1983. Dunoon, where I went to secondary school, is twinned with Lourdes so it was an interesting place to visit quite aside from any benefit to my French-speaking abilities.

Lourdes is a pleasant town, though it is heaving with shops and stalls selling paraphernalia to the faithful. Being from a Protestant background, the commercialisation of iconography is all a bit uncomfortable. The grotto, the stations of the cross and the churches are worth a visit nonetheless, except possibly the most modern one, and even it was intriguing in its own way. The Basilica of St. Pius X was built to be earthquake-proof, and from outside appears to be a large oval lawn with a concrete strip running along its major axis. It's the world's largest underground church, and it's quite like a car park but with odd items of modern art positioned along the walls.

Some of my strongest memories of Lourdes are from undergound, including a visit to the Gouffre de Lourdes. It's a cave system reached by a cable-car ride to the top of one of the hills at the edge of town. For some reason, it doesn't seem to be as popular as the funiculaire across the valley, which also has a cave system at the top (the Grottes de Jer), but I preferred the Gouffre de Lourdes. It's not as commercial, and between the guide's patois and our limited French we practically couldn't communicate, but not only was it an interesting small cave system, but it was occupied in prehistoric times and a small selection of finds, human and animal, were on display in the cave.

Anyway, I was introduced to both escargots (snails) and grenouille (frogs) by the French family I stayed with, and both were very pleasant. Snails are primarily a garlic experience, and frog's legs taste like slightly sweet chicken - as I'm sure you had already guessed!

Some years later I had the chance to have snails again at The Vine Leaf, and enjoyed them once more, so several years later still I took the chance to buy some snails from Butlers when they appeared. Possibly not entirely coincidentally, Pots and Pans across the road were selling the appropriate eating irons at the time, so I was fully kitted out.

I can't now remember the exact details of cooking the snails, but the general idea is that you de-tin them, give them a good wash, then stick them back into their shells with a paste of garlic butter and chopped parsley and put them into the oven where they cook in the butter. Take the shells out and serve on little dimpled dishes. Diners pick the shells up with sprung, basket-shaped tongs and extract the crustaceans with little two-pronged forks.

Although edible, my own attempt wasn't as satisfactory as the ones I'd been fed by people who knew what they were doing, and because they were a bit pricey I never did get round to another attempt before they disappeared from the shelves. However, now they're back I really should make the effort and actually I think they're cheaper now than I remember them...
Tags: food, travel
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