What is escargot and how is it served?

If you're ever in a chic French restaurant perusing les hors d'oeuvres, you may see listed there a dish called escargots. Should you ask your server what is in this dish, prepare for a shocker — escargot is the French word for snail, and yes, it is a literal translation. Quelle horreur! Those are actual snails you'll see on your plate should you be brave enough to order les escargots.

Although the thought of eating snails may seem off-putting at first, escargots are actually quite delicious. Snails were seen as gourmet fare in ancient Rome, where they first practiced heliciculture (which is the official term for snail farming, in case you need it for a crossword puzzle or something). In fact, the Roman snails were kind of like the Kobe beef of their day, pampered with a diet of meat and wine. From Rome, the snail-eating habit spread throughout the Empire, but it was in France where it really caught on and was adopted as a favorite national dish, although snail dishes are also known in other European countries' cuisine.

Why you should be eating escargot

Snail-World notes that snails are quite a healthy source of meat, being low in fat and high in protein (and also water, so you won't get too dehydrated should you ever be stranded on a snail-infested desert island). Also, if it makes you feel any better, snails are not actually insects. Rather, Britannica lists them as mollusks, which makes them more closely related to clams, oysters, and squid than to multi-legged creepy-crawlies. It must be noted, however, that not all snail species are safe to eat, so escargot isn't something that can be foraged out of your garden — unless, of course, you're an experienced, knowledgeable snail hunter (or a practitioner of heliciculture).

The main reason you should be eating escargot, however, is because this seemingly bizarre dish turns out to be absolutely delicious! The flavor of the meat itself is fairly mild — Spoon University compares it to mussels — but the texture is juicy and just a bit chewy and there's sooo much flavor from the sauce.

How escargot is served and eaten

If you order escargot in a restaurant, it may be served in the shell, in which case you'll be supplied with an escargot fork, such as these ones available from Amazon. This fork is meant to reach into the shell's chamber and help you dig out the hidden treasure. Escargot in or out of the shell may be served in a special escargot dish with an indentation for each one, or they may be served atop toasted bread.

However it is served, escargot will be cooked in and accompanied by an absolutely delicious sauce. One of the most common preparations involves butter, garlic, and parsley, and you'll want to use plenty of bread to soak up every last drop of sauce. Other preparation methods include Escargots A La Bourguignonne (Emeril Lagasse has a recipe calling for red wine and shallots in addition to garlic butter) and Escargots à la Provençale (Chez Nous Dinners' version tops wine-simmered escargot with tomato confit).

The best part about eating escargot? It gives you enough solid adventure-eating cred to make Andrew Zimmern proud, but instead of being gross, escargot may well be one of the tastiest things you've ever been glad you were brave enough to try.