Garden Grazing: Escargots

Back when my plans for Christmas Eve crab were threatened by some dumb-ass humans, I decided to resurrect a Christmas Eve tradition from my childhood: snails. That's right, people, I grew up a picky eater in Minnesota where I gagged on string beans, yet I ate snails.

There's no explanation, but where my mom failed with wild rice, succatash, and scalloped potatoes, she succeeded with hot, buttery, garlicky gastropods. As much as my sister and I loved escargots, we never asked for it any time of the year other than Christmas Eve. It was tradition and we loved our Christmas Eve traditions.

We sat on the floor in front of the fire and ate our Christmas Eve dinner from the coffee table. We felt elegant, grown up, and quite worldly as we carefully applied the escargots pincers to the natural shells and pulled out the butter-soaked meats with tiny forks. Small and soft rounds of baguette were used to wipe the plates clean and stuffed into the shells to soak up every possible spot of garlic butter.

The Vander Weide Family's Christmas Eve Escargots

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1 can large snails
Natural shells (you can also use frozen pastry or phyllo shells)
1/4 lb. unsalted butter, softened
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 scallions, chopped
Salt, to taste

Preheat oven to 375°

1. Pour off liquid from snails, rinse under cold, running water.

2. Combine butter with garlic, scallions, and salt. Smudge a small amount of butter inside each shell, stuff the snail in, and pack it in with more butter. Let snails chill overnight.

3. Put snails upright in a baking dish and bake on lower rack for about 25 minutes. Serve with baguette.

Last year, I revived the family escargots tradition and brought the sumptuous snails to a Christmas Eve party. However, instead of my mother's traditional recipe, I used the one I discovered in my 1963 copy of Samuel Chamberlain's Bouquet de France.

The squeamish didn't partake, but those who did came back for seconds until there were no seconds left. The highest compliment I received came from a French guest who told me my escargots tasted exactly like the escargots she enjoys in Paris.

Escargots Maison from Bouquet de France

2 cans large snails
1 cup butter, softened
8 tablespoons parsley, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 shallot, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Large pinch of grated nutmeg
6-8 blanched almonds, chopped and finely pounded

Preheat oven to 375°

1. Pour off liquid from snails, rinse under cold, running water.

2. Combine the butter, parsley, garlic, shallot, salt, pepper, nutmeg, and almonds. Smudge a small amount of butter inside each shell, stuff the snail in, and pack it in with more butter. Let snails chill overnight.

3. Put snails upright in a baking dish and bake on lower rack for about 25 minutes. Serve with baguette.

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Serve either recipe with Champagne or a red wine from Burgundy.

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