How to Buy, Cook and Eat Percebes, the Crazy Looking Crustaceans Chefs Adore

Food and Wine


April 21, 2016

Justine Sterling

Trust us, they're better than they look.

Nicknamed "gooseneck barnacles," Percebes are not the prettiest creatures. They’re tubular with dark brown skin, bright orange flesh and claw-like shells that recall tiny rhinoceros feet. They just happen to be as tasty as they are ugly—and a favorite of notable chefs like George Mendes and Ken Oringer.

In Spain and Portugal, seafood lovers prize percebes above lobster or shrimp. Come spring and fall, they're hand-harvested off the rocks in Galacia and you'd be hard pressed to miss them at local markets and restaurants during that time. While U.S. consumers can't yet get fresh percebes from Galacian sources, you can score them fresh from Vancouver thanks to the vendor La Tienda.

La Tienda’s wild gooseneck barnacles get harvested by the Nuu-chah-nulth, a Canadian First Nation tribe, which secured exclusive rights to collect the shellfish. Available for $89.95 per pound through the end of May, the fresh percebes are worth the splurge—hey, it’s still cheaper than flying to Spain—as long as you have some ideas about how to prepare them. Here, La Tienda owner Jonathan Harris shares his top tips for cooking and eating percebes.

On cooking percebes: As daunting as percebes may look, they’re a breeze to prepare. Harris recommends simply steaming, blanching or simmering them in heavily salted water (think oceanic levels of salt).

On seasoning percebes: “The idea is that you want to let the briny flavors to be the star,” Harris says. Serve the cooked percebes with a squeeze of lemon and nothing more.

On eating percebes: “Holding the hard shell as a handle, twist and pull the meat out from the tube of the neck, or body,” Harris instructs. Then eat the bright coral-colored meat in one or two bites. “Each bite is tender and chewy,” he says. “The flavor is fresh an salty—like a splash of seawater.”

On pairing percebes with wine: Harris pairs percebes with a crisp, cirtrusy Albarino, harkening back to their celebrity status in Spain.

On storing percebes: They might look tough, but percebes spoil quickly. “That is why they need to be pried from the rocks whole and must be shipped alive,” Harris says. “Each batch of thumb-sized percebes is shipped overnight and can be stored for several days in the refrigerator.” Make sure to keep them somewhat dry. “Ironically, they can’t be stored in water,” he says.

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