Snails in Spain
by The Tapas Lunch Company
From the TLC Blog
Living in Spain teaches you to try new culinary experiences. To taste different foods and experience culinary delights you would not have otherwise enjoyed.
But, even for me, there are dishes I cannot make myself desire. No matter how much I try.
Snails fit into that category.
Don’t be thinking cooking snails is the sole preserve of the French.
The Spanish eat plenty of snails.
For nine months of the year snail gatherers are at work in Spain.
On the low plains of northern Spain, from Catalunya to the Basque country, snails have always been a favourite. They are thought of as a delicacy.
Caracol (snail) recipes are everywhere and at least one version will turn up on a restaurant men in places such as Barcelona and Girona.
Meanwhile, up in the valleys of the Pyrenees, eating snails has long been ridiculed. People there thought only the very poor would eat snails.
You’ll be able to buy a variety of snails at Spanish markets but, really, will you know the difference? Snails look like snails, don’t they?
The chances are that you will see varieties such as boberos or navarricas for sale. They sell them in vast wooden crates at my local market. Or you might see them sold from a wheelbarrow.
Snails sold in Spain will likely be smaller than those in, for example, France. They will have themselves eaten a fair amount of herbs, including tarragon and thyme. Then there is the tiny caracol de huerta or vegetable snail.
Snail farming is big business in northern Spain.
They are farmed to feed a gastronomic trend that is spreading through Europe. White caviar or snails’ eggs are in demand. One kilo of the eggs retail for almost two thousand euros.
One farmer who harvests 50 kilos of snails per year says: “I used to sell tonnes of chemicals a year in order to kill snails. Now I rear them. It is a labour of love. It is still a niche market, but we hope the demand for snails will grow and grow.”
Incredibly, in Spain, there is a National Association for Cultivating and Rearing Snails (ANCEC). Its president, Josep Marcelo, says: “It’s great that people are rediscovering snails and especially their eggs. There is not a huge demand yet. The eggs themselves have an earthy taste and need marinating in something strong to give them flavour.”
Spanish chefs copy their French counterparts and use them either in, or as, a sauce. Surprisingly, considering the aversion of many Spanish diners to spicy food, Spanish cooks do serve up spicy snails. Saffron and hot paprika are used often in such recipes.
In Catalunya they favour spicy and sweet servings of snails. On the Balearic Islands snails are served with the sobrasada sausage. Or they serve them in hotpots and stews with lamb or rabbit.
Snails turn up in the Valencia region served, of course, with rice. Further north they opt to barbecue them with oil, salt and a seed from a hot red chilli pepper.
Spanish chef Oscar Pardo says: “It is fantastic to be able to try new things and create new combinations of flavours. Some people are sceptical about snails’ eggs and white caviar but most people love to try. It’s something new and surprising.”
Spanish businessman Blas Hervias was the first Spaniard licensed to sell white caviar.
He says: “The UK market is a challenge as there is not the culture of eating snails like there is in Spain or France. But I think Britain is ready for snails’ eggs.”
I shall be publishing a couple of snail based recipes on this site shortly. Then you can be the judge.