It is said that the months without an “r” in them are the best time of the year to eat snails in Portugal. That would be May, June, July, and August. April to May would be the rainy season which brings these slippery little guys from below the earth to the ground where you can see them crawling all over the place. Anytime right after it rains you can see them climbing leaves, walls of houses, and slithering along the sidewalks. You see people in the fields filling up sacs of these things. I have picked countless numbers of these little guys off the pavement and put them up on a wall or in a bush as to not get crushed. But what is my fascination with them? I just do not know.
The most popular are the caracóis which I do not like to eat. They are the really tiny snails that you see all over the fields, sidewalks, and plants as seen below:
They are boiled in olive oil, garlic, oregano, bay leaf, some hot pepper powder, and onion. I am sure there are variations but this is the one I see the most. And people here love them! Once May rolls around every restaurant and café you walk by has a sign reading “Há Caracóis” which is basically “there are snails”. Now I am not particular to these at all even though I have tried them several times. There is something about the snails mixed with these ingredients and the smell that just turns my stomach. Which is strange because I cook with these ingredients all the time. But the combo is not good for me. Also when you boil them the snail sort of peeks out and dangles and you can still see it’s face. I just have an issue with seeing faces when I eat. Now I got over this with fish and shrimp, though I do not eat the heads on either animal. But anytime I try to put it past me and put one in my mouth, all I see is face! So forget it.
The ones I like, that I think are so much better and worth the time to eat are the larger snails, or escargot as us Americans know it. A popular way to do them here, and how we did them yesterday is to simply salt them and throw them on the grill. Then they make a special dipping sauce which consists of butter, lemon, oregano, and garlic. You just pull out the snail from the shell and dip it into the sauce and eat! Add some buttered toast and some cold beers and vóila! This is definitely the better way to go, to me, anyway.
I also learned that there is a proper procedure to go through before one can eat the snails. When you catch them you are supposed to contain them for a few days and feed them one last time so that they can “clean” themselves out before ending up on your dinner plate. There is a rhyme and reason to everything here. The fun part for me has been unlocking some of these secrets!
Below is some of my snail photography. I love to photograph these lil’ suckers.