Though a frequent visitor to France and having more than a fair knowledge of its gastronomic delights, it’s not until John Gardner’s eleventh 007 novel, Death is Forever (1992) that James Bond is given that most archetypal of French dishes: snails in garlic butter.
Bond enjoys his plate of escargots on a pavement table of the Terminus Nord in Paris, which we know from Ian Fleming’s short story ‘From a View to Kill’ (1960) is one of his favourite haunts, being in his view the least pretentious and most anonymous of the city’s station hotels. John Gardner adds that the restaurant’s service is impeccable, while the food attracts gourmets who are not just passing through.
Not all snails are suitable for eating. The creatures typically used for the dish are common French garden snails (Helix aspersa). Preparation is a bit of an effort, involving purging the snails of grit, then boiling the snails before removing them from their shells, washing them, then giving them a final boiling to complete the cooking. If preferred, you can cook the snails the ancient Roman way by allowing them to escape the shell and fattening them up with milk.
To make James Bond’s dish, the clean, empty shells are half-packed with garlic butter before replacing the cooked meat. More garlic butter is pressed on top of the meat, filling any remaining space in the shells. The snails are then heated through in an oven.
For convenience (and owing to a lack of edible snails in my garden), I purchased a commercially prepared packet of escargots, complete with garlic butter. The tray of snails goes into the hot oven (190C, 170C fan-assisted, 375F) for about 15 minutes, when the sauce should be nicely bubbling away.