Monday, June 11, 2018

Vegetarian escargots à la bourguignonne

The two of us fell in love with Burgundy-style snails in, of all places, Taipei. 

We had a super fancy French restaurant in town called, of course, Le Escargot, a place where even in the early Eighties a bottle of something like a Christian Brothers red would set us back at least $40. Our rent for a condo was less than three times that, so you can see that this was a rare treat.

Escargot were almost impossible to find, too, and butter, and French bread, for that matter. 

But necessity is the mother of something or other, and we really wanted to eat these little guys on a more regular basis, so I went to work.

Fresh black mushrooms
Taiwan’s fresh mushrooms are divine, and we would buy big fat brown ones up from old ladies who went foraging in the hills behind our house. And one day I started thinking… I wonder if I could use these? My conclusion: they’re even better. No grit, lots of flavor, and super cheap. What’s not to love?

I hunted down some tinned butter, which was a revelation. There wasn’t enough demand for real butter at the time for any markets to offer it fresh, so I invested in some French butters that came in cans and were really quite good. For the French bread, well, I always had my Julia Child recipe to fall back on. As for the broiler, I had gotten my hands on a little toaster oven that worked just fine. I even had seashells to hold the fake escargots.

In other words, this was a big ordeal, but when you really want to eat something, you’ll figure out a way to do it, right?

Now that everything is so easy, I had almost forgotten how good this was. We had it recently and know that from now on it will be on regular rotation.

I always serve these with lots of French bread, a tossed salad, and some good red wine. Little forks are traditional, but I have to tell you that chopsticks work a whole lot better. Sop up the butter with the bread as you go. This is sensuous stuff.

Vegetarian escargots à la bourguignonne chez Huang
Huángjiā Făshì sù guāníu 黃家法式素蝸牛
Faux snails in their coffins
Serves 2 as a main entrée, or 4 as an appetizer

4 fresh black mushrooms or shiitake
4 cloves garlic, finely minced
½ cup lightly packed | 30 g finely chopped parsley
1 stick | ½ cup | 115 g unsalted butter, softened
½ teaspoon sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

1. Have four heatproof escargot pans or plates ready, or use empty snail shells—you can find these in higher-end kitchenware shops and online. If you’re using the shells, place them on a baking sheet.

2. Remove the stems from the mushrooms and wipe the caps clean. Using your kitchen shears, cut the caps into thin strips, no more than ¼ inch | 5 mm wide, and then slice these into snail-like pieces. Distribute the mushrooms evenly among your pans, plates, or shells. These will shrink considerably as they cook, so don’t feel bad about smashing them down to fit.

Top with the compound butter
3. Place the garlic, parsley, butter, salt, and pepper in a small work bowl and mix them together thoroughly. Distribute this paste evenly among the snails. There’s no need to get too crazy with making them look nice, as the butter will melt soon enough.

4. Set your broiler rack about 2 inches | 5 cm from the broiler (or more, if your shells are big—whatever you're using, you want at least 1 inch | 2.5 cm clearance from the heat), and then turn on the broiler to high.  Place the mushrooms in the broiler and keep an eye on them. As soon as they’ve started to turn golden and are sputtering nicely, remove from the oven and serve on heatproof plates.


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