Not only the French hold snails in high regard as a delicacy: in the Cretan diet, they are pan-fried with flour and sizzling olive oil, then bathed in wine (or vinegar) and enhanced with a hint of wild rosemary.
Snails have been a staple of the Cretan diet for thousands of years since the Minoan Era. These shelled delicacies are known as “chochlioi” in the Cretan dialect. Traditionally, the snails in Crete were hand-collected after rainfall, when they emerged from their hiding places at the end of winter and the beginning of spring. But heliciculture has a strong presence on the island, with organizations like Snail Farm and Fun in Tílisos and Escargot de Crete in Latzimas growing edible land snails for human consumption.
Crete is home to a diverse array of snails, totalling 120 species. Approximately half of these snails are unique to the island, existing nowhere else in the world, while six of them are considered suitable for consumption and chefs and home cooks alike integrate them as part of traditional Cretan menus.
Chondros, lianos barbarosos, chochlidaki, mourmouri, and archontissa snails are essential ingredients in traditional Cretan home-cooked dishes. Although their scientific, Latin names may lack appeal, these snails, including Cantareus aspersus, Cantaneus aperus, Helix cincta, Helic nucula, Eobania nermiculata, and Theba pisana, are transformed into delectable dishes when pan-fried in olive oil. You can find snails – when in season – in most traditional Cretan tavernas, as well as some more upscale restaurants.
If you visit Crete when snails are in season (springtime or fall), you’ll find them in supermarkets and farmers’ markets. You can also use sites like eFood or Wolt to have cooked snails delivered to your door.
If you find snails wherever you live and you want to cook them like the Cretans, here is the easiest way:
Cretan Fried Snails Recipe (Chochlioi boubouristi)
- 750 gr snails
- 2 tbsp sea salt
- 150 ml olive oil extra virgin
- 75 ml white wine
- 75 ml strong wine vinegar
- 2 tbsp fresh rosemary
- 1 bay leaf
- salt and pepper to taste
- 3 cloves garlic peeled
- 200 gr all purpose flour
- Begin by submerging the snails in a deep bowl of cold water for 1 hour, discarding any that float to the surface.
- Clean the snail shells thoroughly by scraping off any residue. Utilize a sharp paring knife to delicately eliminate and dispose of the thin membrane that cloaks the opening of the snail.
- Drain the snails and transfer them to a deep saucepan placed over low to medium heat. Pour in the wine and enough water to cover the snails fully, then add the garlic and bay leaf.
- Allow the snails to simmer for 20-25 minutes, skimming off any impurities that rise to the surface with a slotted spoon. Once cooked, set the snails aside to cool in the liquid.
- After the snails have cooled, drain them and lightly sprinkle with coarse sea salt. Keep a generous bowl of flour nearby for the next step.
- Heat the olive oil in a pan over high heat.
- Swiftly coat the snails in flour, shaking off any excess, and carefully place them in the hot oil with the shell's opening facing downward.
- Fry for 2-3 minutes without disturbing them, then season with salt and/or pepper to taste.
- Next, add the vinegar and rosemary, allowing the mixture to cook for 2-3 minutes without stirring, until the vinegar evaporates.
- remove the pan from the heat and serve hot.