Saturday, March 15, 2014

Eating Percebes, the goose barnacle

It was a brave man who first ate an oyster, said Jonathan Swift. Well it was a total, bloody hero who first ate percebes.

I have a plate of alien penises in front of me and I'm expected to eat them. Ok, so they're not actually alien penises but sometimes fiction is more palatable than fact.

Percebes, the goose barnacle

They are percebes, a rare seafood delicacy famous in the town of Salango, Manabi. In English they are known as goose barnacles because in the days before Europeans understood the migratory patterns of birds, they believed the barnacle geese laid their eggs on branches and dropped them into the sea.

The percebes look like the sort of space monsters I used to spend afternoons blasting away at in the early-90s horizontal shooter R-Type. An obscure reference, but no less true for it. Or, for the film fans... they are somewhere between Aliens, a Triffid and a Grabboid from Tremors.

A plate of percebes in the excellent El Pelicano restaurant in Salango costs just 11 dollars. But they are also particularly popular in Spain where prices can be more than twenty times higher. The juiciest goose barnacles sell for well over 100 euros a kilo.

Percebes, the goose barnacle

So what do they taste like? The sea... but that's not very helpful. Muy rico. They are much softer than calamari and firmer than crab. They are juicy and meaty with a more intense flavour than cockles or mussels. I ate them steamed with just a squeeze of lemon. I love seafood and they are absolutely delicious.

To eat them you extract a stalk from the calciferous mass they grow from, you then snap the head gently and peel back the thick, reptilian skin to reveal a fleshy pipe of flesh. It's best not to look at them too carefully before popping them in your mouth. Small percebes grow like branches from the larger ones and from behind the claw like skull a weird tentacles hand writhes.
Percebes, the goose barnacle

I've had some strange dishes put before me from pig's trotters, bowls of squid ink, and oysters in Cancale but percebes tops the list. Lucy and I cast one another a nervous glance when the bowl of steaming aliens arrived. Neither of us wanted to go first so I stalled for time and took some photos. By the end we were fighting over the scraps.

I'd never pay 100/kg Euros for percebes but at Ecuadorian prices it's a bargain. I'm returning to El Pelicano soon for a second bowl.

No comments:

Post a Comment