On Mallorca we eat some delicious snails for Sant Marc. | A. ESTABEN


This week we celebrated Sant Marc on April 25 and as is the tradition here in Mallorca, we had to eat some delicious snails.

Long considered a delicacy in Mallorca, snails have in fact been an integral part of the island’s cuisine since time immemorial and in most traditional restaurants, you’ll probably find somebody sitting down and working their way through a large plateful of them. I can well imagine that the thought of cooking and eating snails may seem a forkful too far for some people, but snails have a long and illustrious gastronomic history.

They have been eaten since roman times when a certain Fulvius Lupinus is credited with having perfected a method of fattening them. I have always been told that the best snails are found in vineyards and feed on grape leaves or fresh herbs and cabbage. I used to eat them occasionally in France some years ago; just 6 or 8 snails, always nicely presented in a little dish known as an “escargotière”, which ensures a neat presentation with each snail in its own compartment, with a delicious garlic, shallot and herb butter.

arroz brut restaurante can pedro genova
Arroz Brut with snails.

The first time I ordered them in Mallorca I couldn’t believe it as there must have been at least 50 snails all piled up in an earthenware dish. They are normally prepared in the following way: first they are soaked in a little salted water with vinegar and flour for about one hour to clean, ridding them of any grit and waste matter. They are then cleaned again in fresh water several times, changing the water every time. They are then placed in a saucepan, covered with cold, seasoned water and placed over a gentle heat. They are then brought slowly to the boil and any scum or impurities that rise to the surface is removed. Some roughly chopped onion and a little red Chile pepper is added along with a bouquet of fresh herbs containing, parsley, thyme, bay leaf and fresh fennel. They are then simmered for about one and a half hours. The snails are then drained and served boiling hot with a garlicky “ali-oli”. Snails also find their way into the rustic, delicious Mallorcan dish, Arroz Brut and into a classic “Paella”.

The truth is snails are a good option as we look for new sustainable foods. There’s not much bi-product or waste, you don’t have to cut down trees to farm them, they don’t eat a lot plus they are ready to be eaten at six months old. They can also be delicious, I must admit that I still love the classic French way of preparing snails “a la Bourguignon”. You can use good quality tinned snails for this but if you have fresh snails, you’ll have to prepare them first by blanching them in boiling water for 5 minutes. Then rinse them in running cold water and place them in a bowl of cold water mixed with 2-3 tablespoons of vinegar for 10 minutes. Rinse them again in cold water and prepare the cooking liquid or Court-bouillon by placing 2 litres of chicken stock in a large saucepan with 250ml white wine, 1 small chopped onion, 1 chopped celery stalk, I chopped carrot, 1 bay leaf, a sprig of fresh thyme and a little salt & pepper. Bring to a soft boil and place the snails in saucepan. The broth should cover snails entirely. Cover and cook them on a low heat for 2 hours. Let the snails cool in the broth. Use a small ‘snail’ fork to remove the snails from their shells. Insert the fork to separate the meat from the shells, twisting the shells away from the meat to separate. Discard (just tear with your fingers) the ‘twisted’ part of the snail (intestines). If you are cooking a recipe with shelled snails, return the snail back in its shell. Just push it back in with a small fork or use your index finger.

Snails a la Bourguignon

Serves 4

  • 16 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
  • A small bunch of flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp white wine
  • 1 tsp cognac or French brandy
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 2 shallots, finely chopped
  • Sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, and nutmeg, to taste
  • 24 extra-large snail shells
  • 24 cooked or canned extra-large snails
  • 5tbsp rock salt

In a bowl, mix together the butter, parsley, wine, cognac, garlic, and shallots. Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight to let the flavours mingle.

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Spoon about 1⁄2 teaspoon of butter mixture into each snail shell. Push a snail into each shell and fill the shells with remaining butter mixture. These can be refrigerated until ready to serve.

Heat the oven to 200c. Cover a baking dish with a layer of rock salt. Arrange snail shells, butter side up on bed of salt and bake for 8-10 minutes until butter the butter sizzles.

Serve the snails on a fancy snail dish or a plate with warm crusty bread to soak up the butter.

Arroz de conejo y caracoles

Serves 4

  • 1 whole rabbit (1½kg), chopped into pieces
  • 350g Calasparra or Bomba rice
  • 2 dozen cooked snails
  • 1 red pepper, deseeded & diced
  • 2 medium-sized ripe tomatoes, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 150ml olive oil
  • 1.2 litres chicken stock
  • 1tsp paprika
  • Pinch of fresh saffron
  • Seasoning

Heat the olive oil in a wide-bottomed frying pan or Paella pan and fry the rabbit pieces for about 6-8 minutes until golden brown.

Add the, snails, chopped tomatoes, red pepper, crushed garlic and paprika and cook for 3-4 minutes or until all the liquid has evaporated.

Add the rice and saffron and pour in the chicken stock. Season with salt and pepper and bring to the boil and cook for 15-20 minutes until the rice has absorbed all the liquid. Remove from the heat and leave the rice to stand for 2-3 minutes.

Take the whole dish to table and serve with a rich, garlic aioli.