Often, perhaps even usually, memories rise when bidden, a pleasant if reliable process. Occasionally, though, the journey is a little more convoluted, and experiences remain submerged until something else summons them. Such happened recently, when reading Rex Stout’s The Doorbell Rang, in which the narrator’s phone being tapped causes him to rely on a neighbor, a doctor, to convey messages:
“The trouble is that if someone gets the notion that we get confidential messages through you, your line will be tapped.”
“My god, that’s illegal!”
“That makes it more fun. You might be obliging and say that you came to take Fritz’s blood pressure–no, you haven’t got the gadget. You came–”
“I came to get his recipe for escargots bourguignonne. I like that better, nonprofessional.” He moved to the door. “My word, Archie, it certainly is tricky.”
That reference to escargots transported me back to mid-childhood, when friends took us to a French restaurant to bid us farewell when we moved from Chicago. The day before had been for us, the children; spent at Great America, a vast amusement park in a nearby suburb. Little more than twelve hours later, though, it was the parents’ turn. We kids were cleaned, clad in our best dresses and ties, and each one wishing we still were riding roller coasters.
After accepting the new situation’s inescapability, though, I focused on the food choices. The joint was much too nice to have a “kids’ menu,” and as French still was years in the future at that point, the mind swam. Finally, overwhelming confusion caused me to point to an item and ask my mother what it was. When I heard, “snails,” my eight-year-old mind was captivated.
Nonetheless, over the intervening years the memory faded, and soon it was lost altogether. That is, until Rex Stout brought it all back. In fact, when escargots bourguignonne appeared in The Nero Wolfe Cookbook, nostalgia overwhelmed. Would it worthy of the memory? Snails or not, an answer was necessary.
Fortunately, escargots do merit today’s entry. Of course, by themselves snails taste earthy, almost woodsy. The magic, though, is in the accessories: mushrooms, garlic, cilantro and butter. It’s French, so lots and lots of butter. Perfect served atop slices of a good baguette. And, unlike in the childhood memory, with a great wine:
Chardonnay has a buttery profile, making it a perfect match for escargot. The original selection was a good wine from Burgundy, but something from the Napa Valley caught the eye. The vineyard has an excellent reputation; does it justify the expense, and foregoing a French wine for a French dish? Indeed it does!
Between the two memories, escargots by themselves, or escargots with a great wine and with a good book, the modern recollection wins every time. Still wish I were back at Great America, though.
- 1/2 tablespoon minced garlic
- 2 minced shallots
- 1/2 pound butter
- 2 tablespoons minced parsley (*1)
- salt and freshly-ground pepper, to taste
- 24 snails (*2)
- 1/2 cup white wine
- 24 mushrooms
Over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a small saucepan. Once the butter has melted, saute the garlic and the shallots for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the parsley; salt and pepper to taste. Immediately, while the butter in the pan is still hot, add in the remainder of the butter and stir until it’s combined. (*3)
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Rinse the snails in white wine. Put half a teaspoon of the butter mixture on each mushroom cap. Place each snail, small end down, on a mushroom, and top each with a bit more butter. Bake for 6 to 8 minutes, until the butter is bubbling.
1 – Cilantro is less bitter than parsley and, as such, is more complimentary of the snails.
2 – If you can get fresh snails, good for you. If not, the canned variety, particularly if it’s from Burgundy, is nearly as good.
3 – I also added a few splashes of wine to the butter. Having a good vintage on hand, it was a shame to use it just for rinsing the snails, and adding a little to the butter sauce worked rather well.