If you’re visiting Spain and someone suggests you order the snail dish from the restaurant menu for dinner, you might crinkle your nose.
But snails are popular in Spain. During springtime, snails become part of many popular dishes, such as conejo con caracoles (which is rabbit with snails) and cabrillas en tomate (which is snails in a tomato sauce).
How did eating snails in the Mediterranean come about?
This delicacy dates back to a Catholic fasting tradition, in which meat is not allowed to be consumed on fasting days. Snails were therefore eaten as a substitute for meat dishes.
Over the years, snail consumption has soared. With that in mind, let’s explore Spanish snails: which ones can be eaten, how they’re enjoyed, and what popular snail-based dishes are on offer.
What Spanish Snails Can Be Eaten?
There are two types of Spanish snails. These are caracoles and cabrillas.
- Caracoles are smaller in size than cabrillas and they’re cooked in a broth containing black pepper, bay leaves, garlic, and cumin.
- By comparison, cabrillas are ideal for thicker tomato sauces with aromatic herbs and garlic. This is usually served with a Spanish sausage called sobrasada.
How To Eat Snails In Spain
Snail tapas in Spain are usually served in bowls and accompanied by delicious and refreshing Spanish beer (via World Travel Connector).
You might see locals in Spain slurping snails they’ve ordered in restaurants. This is the way to eat them, but if you’re feeling a bit embarrassed to eat them in this way the good news is that snail tapas usually come with toothpicks so you can remove the snails’ fleshy parts from their shells much easier.
When Is Spanish Snail Season?
Snails feature on restaurant menus around the end of spring, so expect to see them halfway into May until the end of June.
This is therefore the ideal time to try them out when visiting Spain. Order them at a different time of year and you’ll be disappointed.
Spring is also when a popular snail-snacking feast occurs in the country. The largest snail festival in the world occurs annually in Lleida, Catalonia. During this time, around 12 tonnes of snails are consumed and enjoyed!
Why Are Snails So Popular In Spain?
A Spanish love affair with snails began before other countries in the Mediterranean – about 10,000 years earlier, in fact (via The Olive Press).
Archaeologists who have worked in Cova de la Barriada (eastern Iberian Peninsula) have discovered evidence of snail shells among tools and other animal remains in pits traditionally used for cooking.
This was during the early Gravettian era, which is approximately 30,000 years ago (via BBC)! Palaeolithic humans in Spain ate snails simply because they were an extra food source.
Since the meaty, chicken-like taste of snails works well with many local dishes, it’s no wonder why snails are so popular in Spain today. Every year, approximately 16 million kilos of snails are consumed. This makes Spain the second biggest snail consumer in the world after France (via The Olive Press).
What Are Some Popular Spanish Snail Dishes Today?
This is a snail specialty you’ll find in northern Catalan. It’s basically snails that are cooked in their shells before being stuffed with garlic, parsley, lard, salt, and paprika.
The snails are then put on the grill to cook. You can enjoy cargolade with aioli, which is a sauce containing olive oil, egg, garlic, and salt.
Caracoles a la andaluza
This traditional appetizer or tapas in Spain comes from Andalusia. It contains caracoles in a rich sauce made with garlic, tomatoes, parsley, white wine, longaniza sausage, and brandy.
Herbs such as mint can also be added to the sauce. How the dish is prepared is that the snails are boiled in salty water and then mixed into the sauce. It’s common for it to be served with a glass of sherry.
Cargols a la llauna
This dish originates in Catalonia. It’s made with a combination of snails, garlic, and mayonnaise.
First, the snails are grilled in their shells then served with the mayo and garlic. The snails get dipped in the delicious sauce. While simple, this dish is very popular in Spain.
How To Cook Snails At Home
If you want to eat some snails at home and feel like you’re in Spain, this recipe (via El Nacional) is worth trying. It’s a simple yet delicious Catalan snail dish.
- 140z ready-to-cook snails
- 2 cloves garlic
- 3oz parsley
- 3.5 oz salt
- 1 tablespoon of olive oil
- Start by preheating your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Layer the bottom of a small ovenproof dish with salt.
- Put the snails in the dish, with their openings facing upwards.
- Then cook them in the oven for five minutes.
- Blend the garlic, olive oil, and parsley together to make a picada, which is similar to a pesto.
- Put the picada on the exposed area of all the snails, then put the snails back into the oven for five more minutes.
Are Snails Safe To Eat?
If you want to cook a snail-based dish at home, you might wonder if you can simply take and eat snails that are in your garden.
But is this safe?
Although certain marine snails can be highly toxic, terrestrial snails are usually safe to eat. However, it’s important to ensure that you harvest them from vegetation that doesn’t contain any pesticides or herbicides.
It’s also important to cook them properly as some snails contain a harmful parasite that’s known as rat lungworm. Make sure that you heat them to a minimum of 165 degrees Fahrenheit for a few minutes (via Modern Farmer).
That said, not all land snail species are typically consumed. In France, the garden snail (Helix aspersa), Roman snail (Helix pomatia), and the European snail (Helix lucorum) are the species that are consumed.
Helix aspersa is also commonly found in Spain. The other land snail species that are considered to be edible are Cepaea hortensis, Cepaea nemoralis, Helix aperta, Otala punctata, and Achatina fulica (via Snail World).
How To Harvest And Prepare Snails For Cooking
In order to ensure that the snails you’ve caught in the garden will be safe, you have to purge them. This isn’t something you should do if you’re not comfortable with it as it can be upsetting.
To purge snails you will have to feed them herbs and greens for a day or two, then feed them oatmeal. This will help to flush out other foods that have been in the snails’ system.
Before cooking them, you have to stop feeding the snails for a day or two so that they stop producing waste products. This can be seen as cruel, which is why some people don’t follow this step (via Edible Communities).
How to prepare snails for cooking:
When ready to cook them, some people first put the snails in the fridge to encourage a hibernation-like state because the snails will have to be boiled alive.
- Boil a pot of salted water on the stove.
- Put the snails in it and cook them for three minutes.
- Drain the water and rinse the snails in cool water.
- Pull the snails from their shells with a tool like tweezers.
- In a pot, boil three parts of water to one part distilled white vinegar.
- Put the snails in the pot and cook them until they lose their sliminess.
When making escargot, you’ll want to clean the snails’ shells for serving. To do this, boil four cups of water on the stove and add two tablespoons of baking soda.
Drop the snail shells into the water and boil them for three minutes. Then, drain and rinse the shells. You can place them on a baking sheet and dry them in a hot oven.
Are snails healthy to eat?
Snails are healthy because they have about the same protein content as what you’ll find in beef and pork, but snails don’t have as much fat. They also have good sources of valuable nutrients, such as calcium, iron, and Vitamin A (via Nourish by WebMD).
What do snails eat?
If you’ve never ordered snails off a restaurant menu, you should save that for when you visit Spain – but make sure you go during snail season.
In this article, we’ve featured everything you need to know about eating snails and their popularity in Spain. We’ve also given you information you’ll need if you want to harvest and cook snails at home.