Sluggish about snails? Give them another try on National Escargot Day
May 24 is National Escargot Day. Don't feel badly if you weren't aware, as it's a holiday not widely celebrated here in Milwaukee.
But, maybe that should change.
Le Reve Patisserie and Café in Wauwatosa certainly thinks so. In celebration of the day, they'll be offering a special four-course snail feast featuring Pernot snails, wild burgundy snails, butter poached escargot and garlic glazed snails.
Beginning at 5 p.m., customers can purchase all four courses for $45 per person. Courses (priced from $9.95 to 15.95) are also available for individual purchase.
For those hesitant to try out this delicacy, it might help to have a bit of history.
Snails have appeared on tables for centuries. Rumor has it that cavemen ate them. The Romans wrote about eating them. And we all know that the French appreciate them. The fact is, escargot (French for "snail") gained popularity after World War II when impoverished foodies rediscovered this abundant food source and decided to find a way to make it a delicacy.
Often served as an appetizer, escargot is typically cooked with butter and/or wine and then returned to their sterilized shells and served with a sauce and accompaniments such as garlic, herbs or nuts. You can find snails prepared simply with garlic and butter or enrobed with sauces made from saffron or burgundy wine. They may also come millefeuille, wrapped in pastry, or served as profiteroles aux escargots forestière, prepared with wild mushrooms, shallots and white wine.
And, when it comes to nutritional value, snails aren't too shabby. In fact, it turns out they're excellent sources of magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, vitamin B1 and vitamin E, as well as a variety of essential amino acids. With the exception of the butter in which they are typically prepared, they are also low in fat and calories.
Still not sold?
You're not alone. After conducting an informal survey, I found that many have never tried escargot. Of those who have, responses ranged from sheer disgust ("gross") to extraordinary appreciation ("Love, love, LOVE them").
Alysha Witwicki, copywriter at Nelson Schmidt and blogger at She's on the Run, experienced mixed feelings the first time she tried the delicacy.
"When the movie 'Julie and Julia' came out, the Public Market hosted a cooking class with a French chef," she explains. "On the menu were some of Julia's most notorious dishes – like beef bourguignon, escargot and chocolate mousse ... I was really excited to try escargot for the first time, but nervous because snails are known for being bottom feeders, and how could something like that taste good!? Well, I was pleasantly surprised with how delicious it was, and I would order it again in a heartbeat at a French restaurant."
A number shared their favorite places in Milwaukee to indulge in snail dishes.
"The escargot appetizer at Crazy Water is one of the best things going!" says Lori Skelton, Wisconsin Public Radio personality and Member of the Milwaukee Symphony Chorus.
Jeff Fortin, city planner in Oak Creek and food blogger at Eat Wisconsin, expressed similar accolades for the dish at Lake Park Bistro. "They are incredible – baked underneath a puff pastry with mushrooms, garlic, tomatoes and butter."
Interestingly enough, the fondest memories of restaurant escargot seem to reside with the now-defunct Pizza Man.
John Trusky, technician with Hayes Components, tried escargot for the first time while on a date at Pizza Man in his early 20s.
"They arrived in a bowl of garlic butter and maybe even a splash of white wine with a side of lemon," he recalls. "I asked for cracked pepper for reasons I still have no idea why. The snails were done nicely, enough firmness to let you know there was something there. After that night I ordered them several times when company would allow, and miss the fact that you could get them so readily to this day."
Chef Kevin Sloan of the Pabst and Riverside Theaters also rated the Pizza Man's escargot high on his list of favorite dishes in Milwaukee.
"It wasn't that they did anything unusual with their preparation, more so that they kept it simple and consistent," he recollects. "If you really enjoy the mild flavor and slightly rubbery texture of snails, as I do, an elaborate preparation is not necessary. A snail swimming, or better yet drowning, in a pool of garlic butter is a great way to enjoy them – which is exactly what they did at Pizza Man, serving them with thick sliced garlic toast. I've cooked them at home a few times since ... I gussy them up a little more with shallots and booze before involving butter and fresh parsley, and although it's good, it's just not the same."
Daniel Cline of Ball 'n Biscuit Catering says he'd like to see more people trying snails out.
"While I do understand a lot of people's aversion to snails I find it strange because if they tried them they would see that they are very similar to mushrooms in their consistency and flavor," he remarks. He also offered up a recipe for those adventurous enough to try out snails on their own.
"I use canned snails that I get from Glorioso's. Bring the snails, a shallot and some white wine to a simmer in a sauté pan and cook for about 15 minutes. Drain them and set aside. In a food processor combine five or six cloves of garlic, a handful of parsley and pulse until chopped. Throw in a stick and a quarter of butter, some kosher or sea salt and fresh cracked peppercorns and mix until blended into a smooth green paste.
"If you feel like getting fancy, pick up some snail shells to put them back into. I do this instead: Line a pan, baking sheet or baking dish with 12 baguette slices and add some of the parsley butter (by some I mean a lot, you're not buttering toast). Melt over high heat then add a couple of snails to each slice and return to the oven for a couple of minutes. Take 'em out and serve."
For more information on the National Escargot Day festivities at Le Reve, visit lerevecafe.com.
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