(New Zealand, Pukekohe)
French Snail - Helix Pomatia
Find out what French snails you might find on your dinner plate in the answer to a reader's question on this subject.
Question: What type of snails do French people eat?
Answer: Hi Mikaela! Thanks for your question. French people eat both land and sea snails.
Sea snails are called bigorneaux in France and are sold year round, often already cooked. These are usually prepared quite simply by boiling them in a herb infused bouillon. They are then served with bread and butter as an appetizer.
As for land snails, there are mostly just two types that are eaten in France. One is known as l'escargot de Bourgogne or Roman snail or by its biological name, Helix pomatia. This is a large snail, typically 4 to 5 centimeters wide and weighing about an ounce. They are a protected species in France and can only be collected during certain times. Most of Helix pomatia eaten in France have been imported from central Europe.
The French also eat the petit-gris snail, Helix aspersa by its biological name. These are smaller, typically 3 centimeters wide and weighing less then 1/2 of an ounce. They are native to Europe and are pretty much a garden pest. These snails are raised in France as well and heliciculture, or snail farming, is an evolving industry in France.
You can find fresh snails for sale in France and some people even collect them themselves. Snails that have been raised on a farm have usually been fed a special diet and are cleaned before they come to market. Wild snails, however, must have their digestive tracts purged of impurities before they are fit for consumption. This can be quite an involved process requiring fasting, washing in vinegar, and other steps.
Snails are also sold frozen and canned without their shells. To prepare and serve them, one buys the shells separately.
One of the more popular ways to fix snails is à la bourguignonne, which works very well with canned Roman snails. The shells are stuffed with a garlic herb butter along with the snail and then baked in a special escargot dish. This is served with bread so that one can enjoy every bit of the sauce.
Nutritional note: Both land and sea snails are very low in fat and high in protein. A three ounce serving contains less then 60 calories (if you skip the butter that is).
Hope that answers your question about French snails!
The lovely photo is by the German photographer Waugsberg.