Monday, March 24, 2008

Escargot on Polenta with Asparagus

Escargot is not exactly at the top of many people's list of favorite foods. Maybe because it's not a common food (at least where I'm from!), maybe because it's difficult to get over the quasi-buggyness of the little creatures. I think it's a shame because when you look at what's actually in escargot, plus how it tastes, it really doesn't deserve the cringe we're probably giving it right now.

Escargot is high in protein, beneficial fatty acids, and trace minerals while also low in fat (that is, before you dip it in melted butter!), much like many seafoods; the advantage of escargot, however, is that you get all of the texture and flavor while you needn't worry about any of the seawater borne contamination that has lately become a major concern. Imagine tasty shellfish without any fear of ingesting mercury, dioxins, phosphates, petrol byproducts, sewage runoff, scary algae blooms (red tide), plastics, lead, cadmium, arsenic.... No recommended yearly ingestion limits for women of childbearing age-- If that's not disconcerting, you're not paying attention-- But none of those scary things are of concern with farmed escargot, fed on natural cereals/grains and greens! It's become an attractive alternative for us, and we'd like to encourage you to try it too.

If you can get over the thought of "Eww! Garden pest!" you're in for a real treat. If you like mushrooms, particularly mushrooms in garlic butter, I promise you have all that's necessary to truly enjoy escargot. If you can't take the flavor or texture of mushrooms, well, you'd probably better move along.

We are fortunate enough that our local farmers market fish seller carries ready-to-cook escargot stuffed with the traditional garlic-parsley-shallot butter at under $6 per dozen. The first of spring fruits and vegetables are also appearing. Here is a very easy (but impressive-looking) recipe for how I fixed them tonight:

Escargot on Polenta with Asparagus
For the polenta:

6 Cups water
1 1/2 tsp sea salt
2 Cups cornmeal, coarse/polenta ground

The rest:

2 dozen ready-to-cook escargot

1 bunch sweet young asparagus

1 TB butter or butter substitute

Very small amount olive oil in a mister (if you have such a thing, not strictly necessary)

In a heavy pot, bring the water and salt to a simmer. Slowly add the cornmeal, stirring constantly. It will get lumpy before you know it, so plan a good five minutes for just stirring! Lower the heat and simmer for approximately 30 minutes, stirring very frequently. Very.  Frequently. Do not wander off and surf the internet as I sometimes do.

Pop your escargot into the freezer just for a moment (this will make sense shortly). Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Grease a large glass baking dish with the butter/butter substitute. After you've done that, rescue your escargot from the freezer, put them in a colander, and spray them down with cold water. Pick over them carefully for tiny fragments of shell that may have become dislodged. The minute in the freezer should have prevented any butter from falling out while you handle them.

Wash and snip off the ends of your asparagus. Go taste your polenta. Is it crunchy? It needs to cook longer and may possibly need another half-cup of water. If it's fluffy and creamy and has a nice chewiness, it's ready. Remove from heat and gently spread it in the glass baking dish. You can do this by plopping large blobs from the pot into the pan, then gently smoothing it out. You don't want to mush it down and pack it tightly in the pan; it should keep as much fluffiness as possible.

Arrange your asparagus spears and escargot (butter side up) however you like, mist lightly with olive oil then bake at 400 for about 15 minutes. The escargot should be bubbly and smell like garlicky heaven. Immediately divide into warm bowls- with a nice chunk of polenta/asparagus and six escargot on top, this recipe will serve four. The best part is that you get to pour out that lovely garlic-parsley-shallot butter stuffed into the escargot all over your polenta.

Serve with immoderate amounts of red wine.

1 comment:

Sam Sotiropoulos said...

cj, this is a response to your comment on my Greek Food Blog re: Lemon Potatoes...

I would not use parsley on the potatoes... Use whatever oregano you have on hand, but not the parsley as it will change the flavour altogether... perhaps you can use the parsley as a garnish if you must, but don't cook the potatoes with the parsley. :-)

There was no email address on your blog or profile for me to contact you directly so i posted here... hope you don't mind?