Escargots à la Bourguignonne : The ultimate “slow food”

Escargot at Topaz Restaurant Phnom Penh

Meaty and succulent, snails are earthy, chewy little nuggets that are not only delicious but also incredibly nutritious. But the main reason we love them is that they also serve as magnificent delivery vehicles for the hot, buttery, garlicky, iron-rich and satisfying flavours that are the keynote of Escargots à la Bourguigonne.

This timeless dish traces its roots all the way back to Roman times. Then, the Romans were so enamoured of snails, particularly the kind used in Escargots à la Bourguignonne, that they set up special farms for breeding them. These Roman snails, also known as the helix pomatia or Burgundy snails, would be purged in milk, fattened on cornflour and herbs then devoured in tremendous quantities. They were especially beloved by the Roman Empire’s elites. Becoming so popular that one importer set up a dedicated ferry service to bring in more of his slippery cargo from Sardinia, Sicily, Crete, Spain and North Africa.

Since then, snails have been a part of many country’s culinary traditions. Though over time they’ve become synonymous with French cuisine. The first recorded French recipe featuring them can be traced back to 1390, but it was some time before that exploration was echoed in other texts. Even in the 16th century, though snails seemed to be more popular, especially in the Lorraine, they were still considered unconventional. One prominent writer even questioned the wisdom of those who ate them every day.

From another perspective, the state of Britain and France’s relationship with each other can usually be assessed by the prevailing attitudes about the other’s foods. The French have long decried the dull, boiled British fare, a sure sign of an appalling lack of class and refinement. Going so far as to call boiling or poaching “cuire à l’anglaise”, or “English cooking”. At the same time, the British recoil at “fancy” French flavours, which they see as some sort of devilish design to defraud. While both are blinded by their prejudices, it is rare to see them so blatantly expressed as in this 1911 takedown of the snail by a British author, who was put out to find them so widely implanted on smart Parisian menus:

“It has been argued that the national food forms the national character; in proof of which have often been put forward the contrast between the smooth, slippery, volatile character of the soup-, snail- and frog-eating Frenchman and the heavy, stolid and imperturbable character of our own beef- and pudding-eating countrymen”.

By the late 19th century, snails had slid back into French consciousness and fashion, and they’ve haven’t left since. One taste of Escargots à la Bourguignonne will show you why.

At Topaz, we serve traditional Burgundy Snails in the Burgundy style, with generous amounts of garlicky butter and chopped fresh parsley. Served on a godet and topped with freshly crisped toasts, you have all of the elements for a perfect start to any meal.

Posted in Topaz Restaurant