For some reason we had booked a hotel in Coutras, some 65 kilometres from Bordeaux. A nice enough city, on the borders of the river Dronne, but not as interesting as nearby city Libourne with its castles, parcs and rivers (the Dordogne and the Isle). In all fairness, we could easily have forgotten our stay at Coutras, if it wasn’t for the dinner at La Table Du Buffet. It was a warm welcome, a nice plat du jour made with lots of local products and served with very nice local wine, obviously.
One of the dishes was Escargots à la Bordelaise, made with small snails. The taste was great although we think the snails could have been cleaner, but that’s a minor detail. The dish was a revelation: not the standard combination of snails, butter, garlic and parsley, but a rich tomato and wine sauce that supported the snails perfectly. Delicious with some crusted bread. We decided to prepare the dish as soon as we were back home.
Buying the right snails is not simple at all. The snail used for the classic Escargots de Bourgogne is called Helix Pomatia. Excellent taste, expensive and hard to find.
There are three alternatives: Helix Aspera (either the small one called Petit Gris or the large one called Gros Gris) and Helix Lucorum. The last one is considered to be less tasty than the other three, but when prepared well, it’s a very nice, affordable alternative.
Sometimes it simply says ‘Escargots’ and ‘Gros’ on the tin. Sounds good, doesn’t it? In most cases these ‘escargots’ are cooked and chopped large (sea) snails. The term ‘Gros’ is supposed to make you think of the Gros Gris. Don’t be fooled: these ‘escargots’ are rubbery, tasteless and a waste of money (and snail).
And now for the sad part: as you know snails are slow. Very slow. And during winter they are even slower. They simply sleep 3 or 4 or 5 months before becoming active again. Some (most?) farmers are not that patient, so they turn up the light and the heat, pushing the snails towards a faster life, forcing them to skip hibernation and become fast snails.
Even the poor snails are turned into manageable products.
Let’s focus on the honest exception: some farms allow the snails to be slow, to sleep through winter, to be their natural self. Hurray!
Given the name of the dish (and the flavours of course) we suggest a red Bordeaux wine. Not too complex, not too expensive. We enjoyed a Côtes de Bordeaux produced by Château Cap Saint Martin in Blaye. In general you’re looking for a red wine with grapes such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Malbec. Rich in fruit, limited in tannins and acidity.
What You Need
- 12-18 Snails
- 50 grams of Pancetta (bacon is also fine)
- 1 Shallot
- 1 Garlic Clove
- Tomato Sauce
- Red Wine
- Olive oil
- Black pepper
- Crusted Bread
What You Do
Chop the shallot, the garlic and the parsley. Slice the pancetta. Warm a heavy iron skillet. Gently fry the shallot. After a few minutes add the garlic. Add the pancetta and fry for a few minutes. Add the tomato sauce, some red wine, the chopped parsley and allow to reduce, thicken and integrate, let’s say 15 minutes. Longer is fine; the consistency of the sauce is important. Add snails and cook for 10 minutes on a very low heat. Serve immediately with crusted bread.