59 – Slow Food

Even Francisco, the chef, described the taste of snails as “insípido” (I really DON’T have to translate that one into English, do I?).

59-8bannerCaracoles, snails, really are the ultimate “slow food”.  In every way.  The preparation for Riogordo’s “Day of the Snail” began two days earlier when the snails were …. ummm … picked?  Harvested?  Whatever.  They’re not special snails, and they’re not bred on ….. ummm …. snail farms.  They are just random wild snails, taken from the campo and the sierra.  Obviously there are areas where bigger, fatter ones can be found, so the ….. ummm …. snail-pluckers go out early to harvest the best ones.

59-1CleaningStill alive, they are washed.  First in salt-water, then under a hose to remove any last bits of soil, sand, and of course the salt from the first wash.

59-2PotThen into the huge pans over the big gas ring.  The water starts cold and slowly warms up.  This encourages the snails to come partly out of the shells, at which point the temperature is whacked up, to boil the water as quickly as possible which kills the snails.

59-3Francisco

Then they go into the stock.  “It’s the stock that gives them the flavour” explained Francisco.  “Without it, they are insipid and tasteless.”   

Elsewhere in Spain there are other Snail Festivals.  The most famous is in Lleida in Catalunya, and each venue protects its own special recipe.  I’d tried snails only once before, in a professional chef competition in Dorset, where they were cooked by a chef I trusted completely.  He had picked armfuls of wild garlic flowers on the way to the competition, and served the snails in a thick, tasty, bright green puree.  They were delicious.  The traditional French recipes involve lashings of garlic, butter, white wine, and sometimes cream.

59-4ingredientsHere in Riogordo Francisco was happy to share his stock recipe.  Dozens of muslin bags are made up – not dinky little bouquet garni like we’re used to;  these were heavy great bags, stuffed with fresh sprigs of thyme, bay leaf, beef stock, dried orange peel, black peppercorns, chili and “snail spice mix”.  The orange peel itself had taken a long time to prepare.  It needed to be shaved very thinly, avoiding the pith as much as possible.  Just the orange slivers of skin, laid out to dry, then added to the stock.

59-5stockbagSo the snails and the bags of stock go into fresh water which is boiled again, with an extra armful of thyme sprigs for good luck.  It takes several hours of slow cooking to flavour the (otherwise insipid!) flesh.  Once served, fresh mint is added at the last minute.

59-6dishI had some.  Well, it would have been rude not to.  The stock HAD flavoured the snails, but personally I prefer either the French or the Dorset style.  All this preparation was going on the day before the main festival in Riogordo, and 59-7snailFrancisco assured me that the following day the stock would have given the snails even more flavour.  All the bars and restaurants would be selling snails, and there was an opportunity to taste them a dozen different ways.  A “snail-crawl”, if you like (oh please yourselves!).

On the Sunday of the festival, I was summonsed into my little street by the other women.  We had work to do.  It was the Corpus Christi street decoration competition and my presence was required to …. well …. climb ladders, decorate balconies, and …… and that’s another story.  It was not going to be the Riogordo snail-crawl for me after all.

© Tamara Essex 2013

THIS WEEK’S LANGUAGE POINT:

Well, not so much a language learning point, more the answer to the question we’ve all been asking ourselves …. Just how is “Paco” any sort of short form for Francisco?

Well there IS logic behind this, after all!  Saint Francis of Assisi was the father of the Franciscan order of monks.  Within that order his name was written as Pater Comunitatis – father of the community. “Paco” comes from the first syllable of each word.  Simples!

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18 thoughts on “59 – Slow Food

  1. I really like Caracoles “escabeche” Spanish style but French style with plenty of garlic and parsley is the clear winner for me, really disappointed recently, went to Raymond Blanc’s new bistro and they were on the menu, shock horror, they came served OUT of the shell..Sacre Bleu !
    Nice blog Tamara.

  2. Great read, Tamara. Lots of foods are bland, let alone insipid. As a vegetarian, my mainly carnivorous in-laws also stare in amazement as I eat tofu. “But it tastes of nothing,” they say. “A bit like chicken, then” I retort. Herbs and spices are key to both my cooking and eating. Which is why I like my tofu, like other things in my life, picante.

    • Yes Matthew, the flavouring is the key. I can imagine a really good Thai green curry with either snails, or indeed tofu! I share your fondness for all things picante 🙂

  3. Oh goodness, give me tofu instead too please! I guess historically snails are a great source of free campo protein, and know my choice not to eat meat is a first-world affectation…

  4. I am not a huge fan, honestly. I don’t think the stock actually gives them any flavor. They still don’t taste like anything. They aren’t disgusting, just….not flavorful.

  5. Pingback: 104 – All the Language Points in One Place | A Foot in Two Campos

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