Snails in San Cristóbal
I was wandering the market in San Cristobal and saw a lot of snail stands. I'd love to pick some up, but don't know how to prepare them. I asked many of the women selling them how they cook them, but I don't speak Spanish very well and a lot of it went over my head.
Anyone know some traditional recipes or restaurants in the area that serve them?
The river snails of San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas (if that's the San Cristóbal that you meant in your post) are usually prepared in a broth: caldo de xuti. I don't have the recipe, unfortunately. You can find it in Volume 41 of the Conaculta regional and indigenous cookbook series--that's one of the volumes that I don't yet have.
There is a very specific reason you are seeing a lot of those river snails in the markets right now. It is the start of the Lenten season and these shuti or xuti are typical comida de vigilia. Cristina, are you sure that you saw the recipe in #41 of the Cocina Indigena y Popular series (that's the volume on Coleto, i.e. Sancristobalense, cooking)? I examined the volume but could not find the recipe anywhere. I also did not see it in #45 Cocina exotica de Chiapas-unless of course a simple recipe is described in the introductions of these volumes. Not surprisingly however a recipe of zoqui caldu (caldo de shoti) could be found in #47 Recetario zoque de Chiapas since this Indian group is said to have been named "zoque" by the Spaniards because of their love of the shuti.
The introductory essay to the volume opens quite grandly with a subtitles called "de como un caracol funda una cultura contemporanea" (on how a snail serves as foundation of a living culture) and continues:
Una de las mas antiguas practicas gastronomicas en el estado de Chiapas es la tradicion de comer shuti (Melania nigrita) o caracol de agua dulce, que se conoce en otras regiones como shote, shute o jute, y en zoque como zoquinomo, con el cual se prepara un esquisito platillo, cuyo consumo puede rastrearse desde el periodo archaico. El arqueologo Thomas Lee descubrio que esta tradicion data probablemente de 10 a 12 mil anos.
The text then goes on to discuss the season (early spring) which coincides with the Lenten season, the coming of the Spaniards and their naming of this group and finally the identification of these Indians with the snail ("para los zoques de Tuxtla Gutierrez, el shuti no solo es una comida muy especial, sino un simbolo emblematico que, ademas, otorga el nombre al grupo.")
The recipe for caldo de shuti is on p61. Pretty straightforward recipe which seems to have some similarity with other southern and western (Veracruz) recipes such as those for guatape/huatape. I summarize:
Purge the snails for three days with hoja santa (called hierba santa, acuyo or tlanepa elsewhere in Mexico) or otherwise with masa or a piece of wet tortilla.
Clean snails (1 1/2 kilos) and cook in water, salt, hierba santa (no amounts given).
Throw 2 large jitomates, 2 onions (sliced), a garlic clove and chiles chamborotes (2, or al gusto) in blender; fry in a spoonful of lard; add to broth.
When the snails are cooked, add masa de maiz that has been dissolved in water to thicken soup (no amount given for masa//I assume a slurry of masa/water). Add chopped up hierba santa leaves. Serve hot.
Volume #39, Recetario indigena de Chiapas, a treatment of the culinary cultures of tzotziles, tzeltales, mames, tojolabales, mochos, lacandones, also has a discussion of these caracoles del rio on pp103-105.
Three or four recipes are given.
In the first one, simply cook the snails in water with salt and epazote till tender.
A tzeltal recipe has hojas de momo (hoja santa) instead of epazote, and is thickened with masa.
A tojolabal recipe varies slightly from the zoque recipe given above. The recado added to the cooking water is made with tomato verde (de cascara), cebolla, chile "mira pa'rriba" pich of salt and pepper and a tostada which has been crisped in lard, all ground together in metate. The tostado in the recado also serves as thickening agent. Add epazote to water.
Finally, it is noted that in Ixtapa, these shuti are cooked with cangrejos del rio and other riverrine fishes (salmoncitos, julines) with a sofrito of tomatoes similar to the zoque recipe) to make a very delicous caldo.
You're also supposed to chop off one centimeter of the tip of the shell before cooking in water-presumably to dislodge some of the sand trapped inside.