By MELISSA CLARK
Published: July 16, 2008
WHEN I was growing up, my parents were so obsessed with eating snails à la bourguignonne that one summer while vacationing in Burgundy, they paid my sister and me 5 centimes a snail to collect them from the garden of the little house we were staying in. We placed them in a bucket and secured them with a screen top. The grown-ups then starved and purged the gastropods before cooking them a few days later -- drowned in garlic parsley snail butter, of course. As much as my sister and I hated the idea of the poor critters starving to death on our patio, we did relish dipping nuggets of crusty baguette into the molten, garlicky, green-flecked snail butter, which we vastly preferred to the chewy snail bodies themselves.
Years later, I feel the same, and am convinced that the only reason to order snails à la bourguignonne is to sop up the butter surrounding them, then unload the snails on your tablemates, selling them as delicacies. After years of doing just this, it occurred to me that maybe I should give up ordering snails entirely and just make the butter at home.
It comprises butter, garlic, parsley and shallots, and it's a simple matter to mash everything up in the food processor and then slather it over anything that stands still. I've smeared snail butter on bread; radishes; grilled steak, where it dribbles delectably down the sides; sautéed shrimp; broiled mushrooms; even crispy fried tofu, which sounds odd until you taste it. Given this predilection, it's no surprise that recently, after picking up squid at the fish store, I decided to buy ingredients for snail butter, too. After all, with a chewy-tender texture and relatively bland flavor, squid remind me of the snails of the sea, but with a saline rather than earthy taste.
Although I could have sautéed the squid directly in the butter as I do with shrimp, the weather was balmy and I was in the mood to grill. While the grill heated, I made the snail butter, combining garlic, shallot, lots of parsley and butter in the food processor. But because I hadn't softened the butter enough, the mixture remained in chunks instead of melding. Remembering that many recipes also call for a few drops of liquid, like white wine, both for flavor and to help everything emulsify, I decided to dribble in some Pernod from the bottle that lives on our counter in summer, waiting for the aperitif hour. It added a full, licorice note that was perfect with the green flavor of the parsley. Butter completed, I debated melting some and tossing it with the squid before grilling, to keep their floppy bodies from sticking to the grate. But fearing a grease fire, I ended up tossing the squid with just a touch of olive oil. When both the bodies and tentacles were lightly golden in spots, I added them to a bowl with a dollop of pea-green snail butter.
Expecting garlicky squid nirvana, I popped a mound of purple tentacles into my mouth. Strangely, instead of packing the garlic-and-herb wallop I expected, the flavors were weak, even though the snail butter tasted perfectly spunky when I spread it on grilled bread. I added another spoonful of butter to the squid anyway, hoping more would help. It didn't. Neither did more salt nor another splash of Pernod. By this time, the squid were doused in enough snail butter to leave a pool at the bottom of the bowl, which even to me seemed unnecessarily decadent.
As I licked my fingers, I thought about another of my favorite pungent parsley and garlic combinations: gremolata. Sprinkled raw on top of osso buco, it gives a jolt of piquancy to the rich and fatty meat. If I chopped up more garlic, parsley and shallot, and sprinkled that on top of the squid, would it help focus and intensify all the fleeting nuances? Eureka, it did, complementing the ocean flavor of the squid and underscoring the butter itself. My husband and I gobbled every last tentacle, then sopped up the butter in the bottom of the bowl. It was better than snails, even without the 5 centimes cash back.
Grilled Squid With Snail Butter
Time: 20 minutes
1/4 cup packed parsley leaves
4 garlic cloves, sliced
2 tablespoons pastis, like Pernod
2 teaspoons chopped shallots (optional)
3/4 teaspoon kosher or coarse sea salt, more to taste
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
2 pounds cleaned squid
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 large slices crusty country bread
1. Preheat or light grill. In a food processor, combine parsley, garlic, pastis, shallots if using, salt and pepper; pulse until minced. Remove half the mixture and reserve for garnish.
2. Add softened butter to food processor and pulse until mixture is smooth and tinged with green. (You can make butter a few days ahead and store it in refrigerator.)
3. Rinse squid with cold water and pat dry with a paper towel. Cut squid bodies lengthwise to make flat pieces. If using tentacles, leave whole. Season squid with a large pinch of salt. Toss in olive oil.
4. Grill squid over high heat, turning once, until just opaque, about 2 to 3 minutes for bodies, 3 to 4 for tentacles. Spread some snail butter on thick slices of bread and grill along with squid. While squid is still hot from grill, toss it with a generous lump of snail butter and another fat pinch of salt. Sprinkle squid with reserved parsley-garlic garnish and serve, accompanied by the hot grilled bread.
Yield: 4 servings.