by Sun’s Dragon
Snails (caracóis) are a delicacy! That was the official line from the ancient Romans who occupied the Algarve in the days of yore. Fast forward a couple of centuries and it still holds true today.
From May through June there are snail festivals (Festa do Caracol) held throughout the length and breadth of the Algarve. Every restaurant worth its salt has snails on the menu during this time and they are a best seller! Look out for the signs ‘Ha Caracois!’ in restaurant windows and on chalk boards.
Over the hills and in the fields you will see ‘snail hunters’ collecting thousands of snails. Every night you’ll find a van leaving Lagos bound for Lisbon filled with buckets of snails. The south western corner of the Algarve is considered to produce the best of the bunch, which I am sure will be hotly disputed by the hunters in the rest of the region.
Preparing your snails
You may feed your snails with wheat, bran or flour; this will fatten them up and help them purge any toxins they may have. Once you’ve done this, wash them in salt water until there’s no slime left and only clear water remains. Tradition tells us that the snails must go through this process for eight days before they are ready to be cooked.
Cooking your snails
- Place them in a pan and fill with water until there are two to three fingers of water covering them.
- Start heating the water slowly, gradually increasing the heat - this ensures the snails pop their heads out. Cook for 30 or 40 minutes and, just before they’re ready, add salt and oregano sticks. Make sure there are no leaves on the sticks as they give a bitter flavour. You may want to add some pepper or chilli to the pot for that little something extra. An alternative to oregano is to use bacon or Chouriço (local spicy sausage) with onions and olive oil with some tomato added.
- Keep the snails in the hot water until you are ready to serve, they are best when warm.
- To eat your snails, use a pin to remove them from their shells.
Despite the fact that I adore winkles (sea snails) and escargot, I have to admit I have only tried the Portuguese wild snails once. I was slightly tiddly at the time and feeling brave. I know many expats who adore them and eagerly look forward to ‘snail season’ but I am not one of them to be honest – are you?
Snail festival in Castro Marim