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pedro

On snails.

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“In his conception of the world, the snails play a major role. They serve him as touchstone to classify people. Pau is a fifty snails. Pere, a hundred and fifty snails. Berenguer, a two hundred snails. His friends move around fifty snails. Those who don’t reach that quantity form the world of ruins – a kind of limbo without fire or light, neither ember nor smoke.

- How many did you eat yesterday, Nuts? I told him.

- Three hundreds. I’m a three hundreds snails, though it’s not right for me to say it.

- Who is the most important person you’ve met?

- Grandpa Rovira […]. He’s a five hundreds snails.

- Have you seen him eating them?

- Certainly.”

Josep Pla, El Cuaderno Gris

This is what Josep Pla wrote about a walk in a November afternoon at the Emporda, back in 1918. Truly, snails (Catalonian cargols, Spanish caracoles) are a customary part of traditional Catalonian (and many other Spanish regions) cooking. Their use in Catalonian cooking is recorded in documents dating back to 1357, as well as in cookbooks from the XVII and XVII centuries. Though Lleida is the Catalonian province where more snails are consumed, claiming to be the snail capital of the country and having a yearly event around them (L’Aplec del Caragol), snails are appreciated all over Catalonia and I’ve had a number of chances to sample them during the two weeks I’ve spent over there.

As you all know, there are two main varieties of snails used for cooking: the country snail (caracol de campo) or helix aspersa and the vineyard snail (caracol de viña) or helix pomata, though I must say that in Spain probably under that denomination you’d get helix lactea. The latter, helix pomata, is also known as escargot de Bourgogne in France, being larger than the country snail. Which of these two varieties is actually better for food purposes is a continuous source of debate and discussion amongst connoisseurs alike.

There’s a whole industry around the breeding of snails, which dates back to the ancient Romans as its name evokes: heliciculture. Since France is the largest consumer of snails, it’s no surprise that this industry is quite developed there. Nonetheless, it doesn’t cover the needs of the internal market since a lot of the snails consumed in France come from other countries.

Cooking snails is an intensive work, which requires a lot of preparation in the restaurant unless it buys them precooked. I’ve came across contradictory sources regarding theoretic differences between the way of cooking the snails in Spain and that of cooking them in France. It seems clear that in Spain the snails go through a somewhat long period of fasting (several days when not a couple of weeks), whereas is not that clear that this is a prerequisite in France. If my memory serves me well, I recall Arturo Pardos from the missed Gastroteca de Arturo y Stephane closed some years ago, telling me that fasting was an aberration because the foam that the snails lose in the process have some properties not to be neglected from a gastronomic point of view. Naturally, other views on this point would be more than welcome. A consequence of the fasting process is that the meat of the snail gets dryer, perhaps giving more concentrated flavors. After this fasting period, snails are shortly boiled. Again, a cooking branch appears: though with larger snails it seems clear that it’s mandatory to remove them from the shell and eviscerate them, this evisceration is not “required” by the canon with the smaller snails (helix aspersa). Now is when the actual boiling takes place with the herbs commonly used to give them flavor, with farigola (tomillo in Spanish, thyme in English) taking a predominant place in Catalonia. Whether the shell is to be used or not is another decision to make, with the precaution of sterilizing them if they’re going to be finally used. I’m sure that when snails are used as a secondary (but decisive) ingredient in some dishes, quickly coming to my mind the rice with rabbit and snails, it should exist a shorter process precluding extracting them from their shells.

Anyway, I had the opportunity to sample three different approaches to cooking snails while in Girona. At La Xicra (Palafrugell), they come as the shining ingredient in one of those vertiginous mar i muntanya dishes of which they’re so fond of in the Empordà. You find them surrounded by some mussels, Dublin Bay prawns (obviously not from Ireland) crabs and whatever other seafood they have at hand in the kitchen. All this is sauced with a marvelous sofrito of tomatoes, onions and peppers (?) where some all i oli is stirred at the end, leaving its trace among the snails’ shells. A mention has to be made to La Xicra providing with what in principle seems to be an instrument of torture, but which proves as a useful tool to avoid using your hands.

More classic dishes were offered at Can Bech (Fontanillas) and Els Tinars (near Llagostera). Basically, both were versions of cargols a la llauna. This dish takes its name from the original llauna (metal sheet) where you put the snails bottom up with a sauce of, let’s say, oil, thyme, garlic, pepper and salt. Afterwards, you take the llauna and put it into a fire ideally made from wood. The oven is a common shortcut nowadays. Can Bech and Els Tinars differed in the sauce used to cook them: whereas Can Bech presented a more Spartan version of the snails with sauces (tomato and all i oli) on the side, having used a quite simple oil based sauce in the cooking, Els Tinars, without renouncing to give you some all i oli to complement the dish, used a more elaborated sauce which had almost a gratin aspect where all i oli was used in a similar La Xicra’s way.

The possibility of having half portions of a dish in many Spanish restaurants has been cited more than once has a nice way to sample more dishes on a single visit. Well, I found another use for this: you can also order a dish and a half, as I did on my last visit to Can Bech of the several we made these two weeks, shortly before having to return to Madrid! Which, retrospectively, wasn’t the most sensible thing to do. I should have ordered two portions. Little I knew that when I was almost thinking to forget snails for about a year or so, the same day of my return to Madrid Viridiana’s chef, Abraham García, had his version of cargols a la llauna waiting for me. But that’s another thread. Or the famous snail porridge I was going to have at The Fat Duck. But that’s even another forum.

And remember what a friend told to Josep Plà:

“Are you a thirty snails? Stop kidding yourself! You’ll never achieve anything in your life, never, ever, … No matter what you do”

Josep Plà, Lo que hemos comido

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Great report! One of the problems with snails is their unusual appearance, which (like kidneys, sweetbreads, goose barnacles, elvers and such other foods) places them in the 'unwanted' category for many squeamish eaters, particularly in the Anglo-Saxon world. Heck, I was all of 29 years old before I could muster enough courage (in a little central French town) to taste one! :rolleyes:

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Heck, I was all of 29 years old before I could muster enough courage (in a little central French town) to taste one! :rolleyes:

In my case, I ate almost any kind of product (but fish) until I was twelve or so: that included kidney, brains (sesitos), crayfish (well, I tolerated some fish), snails and any kind of offal you could think of. After that, though I retained an appreciation for offals (excluding kidney and brains), I went through a phase of not tasting the rest of "strange" products that lasted until my early twenties.

Coming back to snails, my first exposure to them was when I was seven or eight at my father's hometown, Belorado, a little village in Burgos but quite close to Rioja's traditions in cooking due to its geographical proximity. Cooked by my aunt in a quite spiced and hot tomato based sauce, which seemed almost all-purpose, since it was also used (as far as my memory recalls) to cook crayfish.

A couple of questions:

a) A reliable source of cargols a la llauna in Madrid would be appreciated, if anyone knows it.

b) Snails are used in many regions in Spain, but which ones have a strong tradition of using them in their regional cooking? For instance, I've seen Galizian empanadas with snails, but some gallegos tell me about their almost religious aversion of snails.

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Casa Jorge (calle Cartagena 104) is certainly the best bet for traditional Catalan cuisine in Madrid, and they have some nice cargols a la llauna.

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In the early sixties, when I was a young bride, my father in law brought us a basket full of snails. I think he said they were Moroccan. They were brown and white about the size of a 25cent piece (that is american money, bigger than an Euro). The only way we had eaten snails were cooked like the French do in a lot of NY restaurants - in their shells with garlic butter. There were about 300 of these little snails. We washed them and put them in a pot with a cover on them. The next morning the snails had popped the top open, and were crawling all over the kitchen and parts of the house. After recovering most of them (we did find some weeks later around the house) we proceeded to boil, take out of the shells, cut off the cloaca (intestines and junk like that), restuff into the little shells and cover the openings with garlic butter. It took us ten hours! We swore never to do them like that again.

The next time we knew better and put a weight on top of the pot cover. We also decided to cook them sort of like coq au vin with bacon and mushrooms and red wine. We served them that evening but did not mention what it was until someone who said they loved it asked if it was a mushroom stew. When we mentioned there were snails, everybody started picking out the mushrooms and leaving the snails hiding them under the rice :hmmm:

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I've not had snails often in Spain. Earlier this year we had them grilled as an appetizer and in an arroz. In that instance at least. there were probably far more off putting for squeamish eaters as they had maintained a much more unctuous character. In France, they seem less intensely "snail-like" and taste more of the garlic butter in which they're usually served. At Casa Paco, they are served in the shell and appear to be cooked in the shell. The cloaca is still attached, which is never the case with escargots bourguignon, but a meticulous and diner would have little trouble deftly removing it as he removed the snail from the shell.

My memory of the escargots au vin evening was that the garnish was mushrooms, bacon lardons and small white onions. The snails were not in their shells of course and it seemed every one thought they were bacon or mushrooms. Once they found out there were snails in the dish, all of our guests ate the onions and picked at the rest although up to the moment they happily ate forkfuls. We had never even thought to wonder if either couple might not want to eat snails.

They were wonderful little snails that had been long cooked to the point where they were as tender as mushrooms and we had meticulously removed all trace of cloaca. They were the most denatured neutral snails I could imagine. The real problem for our guests was how to hide their aversion once they had already been caught enjoying them.

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There is a wonderful story by MFK Fisher called 'Fifty Million Snails' in the book Serve it Forth (also in the collection The Art of Eating). Unforgettable...

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I recall eating once (I think in Spain), these lovely little tiny snails that were so small you'd pull them out with a pin. They were delicious.

Is this dish ringing any bells with anyone?

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They're not land snails, Katie, but the small periwinkle (Littorina neritoides) which we call bígaro and the French call bigorneau. Very popular, BTW, in Galicia - where they do feel this (I think) very Celtic aversion for land snails (same for wild mushrooms).

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Boris_A's post in this thread on Italy and snails has been promoted to having its own thread in Italy's forum:

Snails on Italy

I'm really curious about whether snails are used, how and how much in Italy...

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Pedro: It seems clear that in Spain the snails go through a somewhat long period of fasting (several days when not a couple of weeks), whereas is not that clear that this is a prerequisite in France. If my memory serves me well, I recall Arturo Pardos from the missed Gastroteca de Arturo y Stephane closed some years ago, telling me that fasting was an aberration because the foam that the snails lose in the process have some properties not to be neglected from a gastronomic point of view. Naturally, other views on this point would be more than welcome.

I believe it is a prerequisite in France as well as Spain. I've always been told that it's a safety precaution. The Larousse Gastronomic says that snails feed on plants that are not harmful to them, but that are poisonous to humans. Thus they must be deprived of food for some time before they are considered edible and according to the Larousse, it's best to eat only those snails which have sealed themselves into the shell to hibernate. I don't know how practical it is to ensure against them having eaten poisonous plants by controlling their environment and I'm curious to know exactly which plants they eat that are poisonous to us.

I wonder if Arturo Pardos knew something we didn't, or was unaware of the potential problem. It's quite possible the actual risk is very remote. I've also wondered if the material in the seal produced by the hibernating snails didn't add a desirable unctuous quality to the cooked snail depending on how it was cooked and served.

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They're not land snails, Katie, but the small periwinkle (Littorina neritoides) which we call bígaro and the French call bigorneau. Very popular, BTW, in Galicia - where they do feel this (I think) very Celtic aversion for land snails (same for wild mushrooms).

Gracias mi amigo! That makes more sense.

I'm not so sure the aversion to snails can only be ascribed to those of Celtic origin. I'm thinking that most folks that saw a creature that left a slime trail behind it would be a little put off eating it too. :rolleyes:

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On the contrary, Katie. The people who are most likely to see the slime trail are the snail hunters (not exactly a risky sport) and I'm sure most of them love snails! :wink:

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There's a little bar called "los caracoles" right on Plaza de Cascorro that--as you might imagine--specializes in snails. I haven't had a chance to go yet, but the mounds and mounds that I see people eating look promising. I'll to to go this week and report back.

I have had bigaros in Asturias--with the pins and all. They are among the cheapest of all the bar food and as much as I wanted to like them, I have found that after four or five, I start to resent them for not being tastier or more interesting...

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as much as I wanted to like them, I have found that after four or five, I start to resent them for not being tastier or more interesting...

Same here!

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Anyone know a good place in Barcelona for snails? I've seen a couple of 'snail-specialist' places - for example there's one on or around Pl Letamundi in the Eixample - but haven't tried any yet. It's hard to find a willing accomplice!

The best I've had were in Menorca - tiny ones, that were definitely land, not sea snails, that seemed to have been plainly cooked - I couldn't detect any other flavour other than snail - and served with a rich allioli. They were amazing, melting and not at all chewy, with a rich foresty flavour.

A top chef in Mallorca told me that some restaurants clean snails in a washing machine. Anyone know any more about this method?

I've read they need to be fasted to get rid of their poop or make them disgorge themselves. I found this:

"The trick is to make them disgorge themselves. You can do this by keeping

them in Snailhausen for two weeks and then immersing them in saltcrystals.

This is the traditional way used in France (now you know where the Marquis

de Sade drew some of his inspiration from). However French friends tell me

that by far the simplest method is to put them in the fridge. This is also

more natural and healthier for us as we don't then consume a lot of artery

hardening salt with them. They think that winter is suddenly upon them and

to avoid a tummy upset or worse botulism, they empty themselves preparatory

to hibernation. Once this is done they are ready to be prepared. This is the

preparation for cooking. Small snails unlike the Burgundy ones are just

popped in a pot of boiling water whole for a few minutes and then eaten with

a pin. This is the Provencal method. Crete is another place they are big on

snails, there is a clinic now on the Côte d'Azur which treats

arteriosclerosis with diet of Cretan snail dishes using snails that have

been raised uniquels feeding on herbs."

from this website: http://www.mrandmrswheatley.co.uk/snailhau...hausen.html#eat - a rather controversial site!

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The Roussillon may be Catalunya, but it's France and I've moved the posts on snails in the Roussillon over to the French forum. Those who want to discuss snails in France can click to read or join that discussion.

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there is a clinic now on the Côte d'Azur which treats

arteriosclerosis with diet of Cretan snail dishes using snails that have

been raised uniquels feeding on herbs."

I don't know if this is an effective treatment, but so what!. it sounds good in its own right. :laugh:

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I recall eating once (I think in Spain), these lovely little tiny snails that were so small you'd pull them out with a pin.  They were delicious.

Is this dish ringing any bells with anyone?

Victor wrote

They're not land snails, Katie, but the small periwinkle (Littorina neritoides) which we call bígaro and the French call bigorneau. Very popular, BTW, in Galicia - where they do feel this (I think) very Celtic aversion for land snails (same for wild mushrooms).

Don't they eat very small land snails with a pin in Andalucia at least? My husband had them in Sevilla.

In Portugal, all snails are the very small eat-with-a-pin variety, and at the moment are very common. Some company (or companies) has started to sell them frozen, already cooked and flavoured, and I have also seen net bags of plain snails at supermarkets.

There is a mushroom feira gastronomica in Galicia that I always mean to go to ...

Chloe

Ponte de Lima

Portugal

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Anyone know a good place in Barcelona for snails? I've seen a couple of 'snail-specialist' places - for example there's one on or around Pl Letamundi in the Eixample - but haven't tried any yet. It's hard to find a willing accomplice!

I have tried snails at "Cargol Treu Banyes” Plaça Letamendi, for Barcelona is a good place, but the good snails are in Lleida, and in Girona, try "Can Bosch" at Montras (on the route Palamos - Palafrugell), but only the snails, and "Can Barris" at Campllonch near Girona.

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Don't they eat very small land snails with a pin in Andalucia at least? My husband had them in Sevilla.

I really don't know what one would consider "very small". Katie was asking about "little tiny" snails, hence my conclusion it was periwinkles. Land snails are no smaller in Andalusia than elsewhere in Spain. There are bigger and smaller breeds (the vineyard snail is small, for instance), but no "tiny" ones...

An Andalusian snails stew:

http://www.portalmw.com/actualizar/cocina/...nes/caracol.jpg

Of course pins are useful to eat snails, too; the smaller the snail, the more useful the pin.

And yes, there are mushroom festivals in Galicia now. Progress reaches even the Celtic world...

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I'm really curious about whether snails are used, how and how much in Italy...

Excellent opening post!

I don't know anything about the use of snails by the Italians but I know many things about the consumption of snails by the Greeks. Especially in the South of the Country, on the island of Grete where they have a distinctive way in preparing them( they fry them) snails are considered a delicacy and a proof of a well organized nd gourmet household. :)

Since I live out of the city and I am in the position to collect snails( that I adore and I prepare them in casserole with tomato sauce) I have a question for you. I am not sure I undrestood what you mean by "fasting period". Do you let the snails fast after feeding them with flour to clean them or before? Or you do not feed them with flour at all. If not how do you clean them?

Thank you!

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I really don't know what one would consider "very small". Katie was asking about "little tiny" snails, hence my conclusion it was periwinkles. Land snails are no smaller in Andalusia than elsewhere in Spain. There are bigger and smaller breeds (the vineyard snail is small, for instance), but no "tiny" ones...

An Andalusian snails stew:

http://www.portalmw.com/actualizar/cocina/...nes/caracol.jpg

Of course pins are useful to eat snails, too; the smaller the snail, the more useful the pin.

And yes, there are mushroom festivals in Galicia now. Progress reaches even the Celtic world...

I would guess that the 'tiny snails' were the same species (Theba pisana)as we have discussed on the Italian forum.

Tiny snail

I have eaten these in Barcelona (in a rice dish) and they are quite common.

edit: Quite common around the world, not sure about Spain specifically.


Edited by Adam Balic (log)

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Actually, the small Theba pisana is basically popular in Andalucía, so we may have something there! It's not "tiny", really, but it's small enough to be basically used in soups and stews (caracol de caldo, or broth snail, is its popular Andalusian name). The most popular snails in Spain are the common snail, Cantareus asperus (a.k.a. Helix aspersa) and the smaller, revered Iberus gualterianus, the vaqueta mountain snail that is so indispensible for a classic paella valenciana.

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Actually, the small Theba pisana is basically popular in Andalucía, so we may have something there! It's not "tiny", really, but it's small enough to be basically used in soups and stews (caracol de caldo, or broth snail, is its popular Andalusian name). The most popular snails in Spain are the common snail, Cantareus asperus (a.k.a. Helix aspersa) and the smaller, revered Iberus gualterianus, the vaqueta mountain snail that is so indispensible for a classic paella valenciana.

How interesting. It seems when in doubt over a snails ID, it is likely to be Theba pisana. I enjoyed them very much and curse myself for not ever being able to locate the restuarant again.

These same snails are a major pest species in California, they should eat them rather then poisoning them.

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