In French cuisine, escargot is a dish of cooked land snails. They are usually served as an appetizer. Escargot means snail in French. The French word is invariably used to name snails used as food in English.
Not all species of snail are edible, but many (116 different species) are. Even among the edible species, the palatability of the flesh varies from species to species. In France, two species native to France are normally used for making escargot. One of these, Helix aspersa, is common in temperate climates worldwide.
Because snails eat dirt, decayed matter, and a variety of leaves, the contents of their stomaches can be toxic to humans. Therefore, before escargot snails can be cooked, it must first be prepared by purging the snails of the contents of their digestive system. The process used to accomplish this varies, but generally involves a combination of fasting and purging of the snails. Most methods can often take several days.
Typically, escargot is removed from the shell, stripped of its entrails, cooked (usually with garlic butter), then poured back into the shell with the butter and sauce for serving. Special plates with several snail-sized depressions are sometimes used.