In this part of France people make the most of the hedgerows and woods to forage for free food. At various times of the year you can find wild garlic, asparagus, mushrooms, fruit, walnuts and blackberries. Lately we have noticed people going out and about with a bucket and a stick and it took us a while to realise what they were hunting. Snails! I’ve found some whoppers myself in the garden after the recent rain.
Snails are protected in France and you are not allowed to hunt them from April to June when it is the breeding season. They are difficult to farm as they stop breeding if they are kept too close together so most snails you eat in restaurants have been picked up in the countryside.
Once you’ve caught your snails you have to purge them of mucus and the toxic stuff they might have eaten. For about two weeks the snails are given flour to eat until they are clean. In the olden days they might be kept in a box in the corner of the kitchen for several months.
Burgundy snails are an iconic dish of this region. Cooked in court bouillon, the snail is presented in its shell which is filled with butter, parsley and finely chopped garlic and placed in the oven. The Burgundy chef Antonin Careme created this dish when he was cooking for Tsar Alexander 1st in 1814. It is so popular that the native Burgundy snail can’t keep up with the demand and 90% of the 30,000 tonnes of snails the French eat each year are imported from eastern Europe.
It must be better to gather them yourself although it takes a lot of work to get them ready. You are supposed to eat your snails with a glass of Chablis but I think I will just have the wine, thank you.