April 11, 2012

A short piece entitled "Escargot"


I worked once in a French restaurant. The family that owned the establishment came from Cannes, but not wanting to be definingly southern in their endeavor instead focused on mainline, classical French cuisine and eschewed the provencial dishes. So I spent many afternoons and evenings serving confit de canard, truite amandine, and escargots à la Bourguignonne, which is to say, snails in the Burgundy style.

Harvested snails are black in color and noticeably vaginal in shape and contour. Our snails arrived in large 28 ounce cans labeled "RUBY BRAND" and "6 DOZEN - 72 COUNT, EXTRA LARGE SNAILS (ESCARGOTS)" and "PRODUCT OF INDONESIA." After washing and sorting the uncanned snails, the chefs placed them into specially purposed escargot bakers - thick white ceramic dishes each appointed with six deep holes - where they were layered over a finely diced duxelle of mushrooms, celery root, and ham. Ultimately this was baked in a highly aromatic butter sauce seasoned with plenty of garlic and parsley, a hint of white pepper and - the finishing touch - a dash of anise-flavored pastis liqueur. Once the bakers and their contents came to a perilously hot temperature, we served them with tiny forks and plenty of crusty bread.

Pastis was the one ingredient no one would think to guess if attempting to discern the recipe by taste alone. But it was one of those things one might mention upon inquiry and in so doing garner the reply, usually from Francophiles on their second martini, of "Of course! Now I taste it so clearly!". Though perhaps the person tasting it most clearly was the brooding Jean-Marc, husband of the proprietary couple, who generally started his working day with a petit déjeuner of a tall glass of pastis.

Well, escargots à la Bourguignonne is very rich and sometimes an order returns from the table unfinished. In these instances - because waiters are always hungry - if no one was looking I'd stealthily dip a piece of the crusty bread into one of the ceramic baker's untouched holes and scoop up the sauce. So exquisite; I'd lose myself for one buttery, garlicky, breath-annihilating moment and, because hungry waiters always have good breath, spend the next thrity minutes chewing peppermints.

I never ate the actual snail. I don't generally eat things that look vaginal and took the opportunity to compose a list, called Things That Look Like Pussy That I Won't Eat.   Here it is:

1. escargot
2. pussy

(There is a tentative third item I have since added to the list: Georgia O'Keeffe paintings.)

Working as a waiter is often taxing. Working for the French often even more so. To be overeducated and underemployed in the recessive, early 21st century American economy, that's not fun either. Some days, though, you just have to tell yourself : Well, somewhere in the world someone is working in an Indonesian snail cannery and at least it's not me...

Well, the truth is, probably somewhere in the world someone is working on an Indonesian snail ranch, dreaming of getting a job in a snail cannery in the city. Cannery vs. farm, which is worse? I've tried to weigh the pros and cons, but in both scenarios I end up Muslim and working with snails, and I'm just not that kind of boy. But still I have to think about these things, because I am Thoughtsy McGee.
- a.t.s.

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