When we arrived at Benoit, a French bistro in New York City with a famous sibling of the same name in Paris, for a Bastille Day-inspired escargot lesson, we expected the first order of business to involve removing the little guys from their shells and painstakingly cleaning them. But the restaurant’s chef, Philippe Bertineau, let us in on an escargot secret: Thanks to an extremely intensive and time-consuming cleaning process, “even the best chefs buy them pre-cooked and cleaned.”
The fact that most French restaurants serve escargots from a can is probably not shocking to anyone who has ever prepared them before, but it was news to us newbies. Benoit imports cans of wild snails from Burgundy, where they’re harvested in the spring. “My brother used to raise them and we tried to harvest them,” recalls Chef Philippe, who grew up in Poitou Charentes, a region in central-Western France above Bordeaux. “We were young, and it was a sad story.” Needless to say, none of them made it to the plate.
Benoit’s classic preparation with garlic-and-herb butter is a signature dish on the menu year round, both stateside and in Paris. With a can of escargots (sold at many gourmet markets) and a basic mise en place of butter, garlic, shallots, parsley, tarragon, salt and pepper, you can impress any Francophile this Bastille Day.
Go all out and serve them bubbling in an escargot mold from a kitchen store like Williams-Sonoma or Sur La Table — many are inexpensive — with a crisp white wine to balance the buttery richness. “The snails are from Burgundy, so stick with a Chardonnay from Burgundy,” Chef Philippe recommends.