What Exactly Is Escargot? Everything You Need to Know About the French Delicacy

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Snails, garlic, and butter: excusez-moi?

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Just like Kobe beef, white truffles, and caviar, escargot is one of the finest delicacies in the world—and similarly to other specialty foods, it’s considered by many to be a bit peculiar. You’ve likely heard of it, and you likely associate it with snails because, well, that’s exactly what it is. In fact, the word escargot is French for “snail.”

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How exactly did stuffed snail shells rise to fame and secure their coveted place on five-star menus? According to Smithsonian Magazine, humans were actually enjoying snails as long ago as the Stone Age, roasting the molluscs over open fires. Now that we are no longer in the Stone Age, though, preparing escargot can be a delicate and time consuming task, and snails are often imported from different parts of the world—thus the steep price tag for such a tiny indulgence.

Below, everything you need to know about this legendary French dish, from where to find escargot snails, how to enjoy them at home, and what escargot tastes like.

Snails at the Ratov snail farm in Belarus where they breed edible species of snails
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What Is Escargot?

And just what is escargot, you ask? Snails—and that’s it! Escargot, in its purest form is a snail served in its shell (or, in France, it can simply just refer to a single snail). While there are, of course, snails in both bodies of water and on land, land snails are the ones sourced for escargot and other snail-based dishes. On their own, land snails are actually considered quite healthy as they are low in fat and high in both protein and water.

In order to prepare the dish, the snails must be purged, removed from their shells, and then cooked—usually in butter, wine, or a broth of some sort. To be served, escargots are then placed back in the shells and garnished with sauce or herbs. Most often categorized as an hors d'oeuvres, escargot can be an ingredient in many different dishes nowadays, like Chiocciole a picchi pacchi in Sicily, Kohli bourbouristi in Greece, and peppered snails in Nigeria. You can even buy canned escargot. While there are a multitude of snail types eaten around the world, premium escargot comes in the form of Turkish snails, European garden snails, and Burgundy snails.

Where Does Escargot Come From?

France, historically, is where escargot snails come from—and the most sought-after wild snails are collected around the Eastern Alps. Unlike Champagne or certain types of caviar, though, the delicacy does not have to come from France in order to be sold as escargot on a menu—escargot just refers to the French style of preparation. In fact, many places around the world (large parts of Europe, the Mediterannean, and various African countries) use snails in dishes similar to escargot.

Small cooked conch snails in an open tin
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What Does Escargot Taste Like?

Typically, escargot is served slathered in delicious garlic butter alongside (or atop) crusty dipping bread. The flavor of the snails alone, though, is quite mild—some compare it to that of mussels—and it’s known for a chewy, smooth texture.

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Where to Buy Escargot

Firstly, we ask you to refrain from foraging for snails on your own, unless you’re an expert in heliciculture. If you can’t make it out on the town for some fine dining à la française anytime soon, fear not—there are ample places to buy escargot via the Internet. High quality canned escargot, pre-made escargot (garlicky and ready to eat), and frozen escargot are all widely available via companies like Caviar Star, the Gourmet Foodstore, Wild Fork Foods, iGourmet, Wholly, and Peconic Escargot.

Cooked snails in garlic butter
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How to Eat Escargot

When it comes to how to eat escargot, you should consider investing in the whole kit and kaboodle to properly enjoy the dish. You’ll want to buy a set of pronged escargot forks for getting the snail meat out of the shell, baking pans for preparation, and serving plates that feature little indentations where you place the shells. C’est très adorable, non?

To buy: $6, surlatable.com (fork); $20, williams-sonoma.com (plate); $85, surlatable.com (pan)

How Much Does Escargot Cost?

Escargot price varies depending on the type of snail, where you purchase it from, and whether or not you’re dining out. From online retailers like those mentioned above, fresh snails will cost anywhere from $13 per dozen to $15 per dozen. At a restaurant like Benoit in New York, escargot as a dish will cost $25 per dozen or $22 for the appetizer at Balthazar.