La cuina de Catalunya: snails in a spicy tomato sauce/Cargols amb salsa de tomàquet picant.

Snails in salsa arribata

Back when spring was easing into summer, I really didn’t fully appreciate just how much we had planned in the first few weeks of the season, and here we are in the middle of July. One thing I resolved on doing this summer was to spend some time revisiting my favorite Catalunyan dishes since we wouldn’t be making our biennial trip over to Europe this year, what with us buying a house and me buying a new car, but with everything we’ve been up to it’s been awhile since we could devote a couple of days to anything more fun than a typical weeknight meal.

With a weekend looming on the horizon with no plans but our own, I decided to give us a chance to relax and give ourselves a mini Caldes d’Estrac vacation, at least with food if not in beach time. Rosado would be poured, caftans donned, and my hope was each dish would bring us back to those warm days we would spend along the Mediterranean coast.

First up on the list was a dish that we didn’t have while there, but since then I’ve put on my list of things to try when we eventually make our return: snails in a spicy tomato sauce. Snails are definitely a thing in Spain–often simply sauteed with lots of garlic and parsley–but what intrigued me about this was making a lovely sauce for them after seeing Sofia’s photos of some rather delectable-looking ones over at Papaya Pieces. My first go-round with this dish a few weeks ago yielded a sauce that was definitely on the chunky side; while good, I wanted to compare it to a smoother and silkier sauce like the one Sofia showed from La Tomaquera, so this time around I made sure I had enough sauce to make a smooth puree.

I took some inspiration from Barcelona Wine bar’s spicy diabla sauce that they serve with mussels, but reduced the proportions a bit because a can of snails is significantly smaller than two pounds of shellfish. There really isn’t much to this–make the sauce, puree it, and then warm up the snails a bit with some olive oil and garlic before adding the sauce to the pan and letting everything combine neatly. I used a paella here, but a saute pan will also work very nicely.

Consider this the first in what will hopefully be a series of posts celebrating Catalunyan vacation food because I know that one weekend of dishes will likely not be enough to satisfy my longing.

Snails in spicy tomato sauce/Cargols amb salsa de tomàquet picant
Sauce recipe adapted from Barcelona Wine Bar’s cookbook

Serves two as an appetizer

  • 1 7 oz can snails, drained and rinsed
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

For the sauce:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 14-oz can diced tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • Large handful parsley leaves, chopped, plus extra for garnish

Make the sauce: In a small to medium saucepan, heat the olive oil on medium heat, and then when the oil is shimmering add the garlic. Let the garlic cook in the oil until slightly browned, and then add the tomatoes, wine, and parsley; bring to a simmer and then let it simmer for 15 minutes. Carefully using an immersion blender, blend the sauce until it’s a smooth puree, and let reduce for another 5-10 minutes, depending on how much bread you have on hand.

Warm the snails: In a small saute pan or paella pan, heat up the olive oil on medium heat and then add the garlic. When fragrant, add the snails, let cook for a minute, and then add the sauce and let it go for a good two minutes to four to let the snails warm through thoroughly. Add to a serving dish (a small cazuela is ideal here) and garnish with more parsley before serving.

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6 comments
  1. Where on earth did you find snails from!!? Every place here they’re already cooked and I’m always like wtf.
    We have a Barcelona here and their mussels are the BUSINESS!! Great base to start from for snails!

    • YES you DO have a Barcelona! That was the first location outside of CT and I’ve heard nothing but great things about it. As for snails, yeah, the only option you get are canned so you really just want to warm them through (they can take the heat, believe me). I’ll let Anthony Bourdain explain (excerpted from The Les Halles Cookbook):

      “I could lie to you. I could tell you to use fresh snails, implying that we, of course, use only fresh ones at the restaurant. The truth? I don’t know any restaurant, have never in twenty-eight years seen any U.S. restaurant—no matter how good or prestigious—use fresh snails. Oh, a lot of them have snail shells, but they stuff them with snails out of a can. I’m sure someone uses fresh. Somewhere. But let’s face it, even if you could get fresh snails (and I would have no idea where to send you), by the time you’ve had a good look at the things in their living, natural glory, by the time you’ve dug them out of their shells for the first time…you’re likely not going to want to eat them. So do as the pros do: Find the best, priciest, preferably French canned snails (though the Taiwanese ones have been fooling the French chefs for years) and use those.”

  2. i’ve seen fresh snails at Hmart in catonsville, and at the Great Wall of China off of rte 40. but where do you find canned snails?

    • Oooo—good to know. I’ve actually found canned snails with the canned seafood at Harris Teeter, and Amazon has pretty good ones too.

  3. shannon said:

    I’ve never had snails! Never. I’d love to try them, and i love this preparation for them: so simple and perfect. I’m headed to our international market tomorrow, so i’m going to check out my options: i’ve seen the canned ones there (I was reading the comments) but they have a massive flash frozen section, so i’m going to check it out and report back.

    In other news, I love it when you’re in caftan mode.

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