(Triggered by TioJimeno, who recommends them) We have to admit that caracoles (snails in general, not necessarily escargots) are creatures we’d prefer not to find in the garden – let alone on our plate. (See our June 2007 item here, where we declare an interest.) However, we must also admit that even among some foreign residents they are a Mediterranean delicacy, with whole websites devoted to their preparation and recipes galore (Google alone has 112,000 pages!). In the interests of improving international relations, and given that their season is upon us, we have some tips on their preparation that include ‘tricking’ them, cleaning them and even cooking them>
WARNING: NONE OF THE METHODS BELOW HAVE BEEN TRIED BY PROSPERO OR ANYONE ASSOCIATED WITH JIMENAPULSE (that we know of). IN OTHER WORDS, YOU’RE ON YOUR OWN.
First catch your caracol
You will be seeing them if you haven’t already. The gatherers go out into the fields -or stop by the side of the road- with plastic bags to fill with the slippery critters. In this part of Andalucía, the caracoles, like the snails in the garden, often of the same variety, are best picked off whatever they’re stuck to just after a rain (yes, there’s more to come yet). The alternative is to buy a bag of them, though those in shops are more likely to come from Morocco.
The next step is to prepare them. This can be a lengthy, messy process, so if you prefer to buy them, we suggest, on good authority, that you go for the tinned ready-cooked option -never, ever buy them frozen- and skip to A Recipe (much) further down.
Having chosen not to take the easy way, you must now ‘purge’ them.
Snails feed principally on vegetable matter, usually the best, newest leaves over which they pass. This apparently provides much of their taste but could also introduce matter that could be harmful to our less robust digestive system. This is why it is best to starve them for a couple of weeks before eating them. This is best done by placing them in a close-knit net and hanging them in a cool, shady place. (They should not be able to get out, or your geraniums will tell you all about it.)
In a tub or bowl, depending on how many you have managed to retain, place abundant water. Change this many times (no-one specifies exactly how many times, but we suspect it might have something to do with the amount of slime in the water: the clearer the water, the leaner thy are.)
To the water add three tablespoons of coarse salt and a glass full of vinegar and another of tepid water -this per every 60 caracoles. Leave them be but stir them occasionally with the handle of a wooden spoon, until they have released all their slime. Change water again an again.
Now, one by one, place them in a pot. Those that are still moving or displaying their horns are live. Those that are not are dead and should be removed.
‘Tricking’ the snails
Snails have to be ‘tricked’ into being cooked (wouldn’t you?), for which our research has uncovered numerous methods that range from – oh, you really don’t want to know.
Our Spanish readers will undoubtedly provide us with their grandmother’s recipes. We respect that and hope they do, but, without a grandmother immediately available we chose the closest one to what we believe is a local one.
Ingredients (for 4):
1 kilo of caracoles
100 grms of jamón serrano cut into strips
100 grms of longaniza, chopped
1/2 kilo of tomatoes, sieved
1 large onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, fried
Parsley and mint
1/2 a small chili pepper
1 little branch of camomile
Olive oil and salt
Having prepared as indicated above, place the snails in a pot with olive oil, garlic and chopped onion. When these are slightly browned, remove and set aside.
Into the same oil, place jamón, longaniza and tomato. Mix well for a couple of minutes, then add the well-drained snails (they might well be drained by now!) and a little parsley, some mint and the camomile.
Spread a little flour over everything, cover with water, adding salt and pepper. Cook for about 15 minutes.
In a mortar, squash the heck out of the garlic cloves, cumin, onion (over there, remember?) until you get a paste. Disolve in a spoonful of olive oil and another of water. Add this, plus the chili pepper, to the pot of snails, adding salt and pepper if necessary. The resulting sauce should be thickish and spicy.
The best way of eating them, we’re told, is by slurping noisily into the shells in the hope that something will be forthcoming. For those of a less noisy disposition, we recommend the use of a toothpick. Don’t forget to ask for a glass of the sauce, which we have seen being downed like drink. A good glass of rioja is also highly recommended.
(NOTA A NUESTROS LECTORES: Rogamos encarecidamente que no toméis en serio este artículo. Como decimos en su introducción, es un mero intento de acercar culturas. Los ‘anglo-sajones’ no suelen acercarse a los caracoles, con sus muy dignas excepciones, salvo en el jardín y armados de venenos varios. Si se nota un tono algo irónico en el artículo, es porque yo tampoco tiendo a acercarme mucho a estas criaturas salvo de la manera descrita. Los he probado en varias ocasiones pero no puedol – ¡quiero pero no puedol! – Prospero)