Percebes, known as goose barnacles in English, are a Galician delicacy from Spain and are among the most exclusive seafood in Europe. Customers in Spain and Portugal pay up to 200 Euros per kilo for superb quality Percebes. This extraordinary price results from the extreme circumstances in which the rare barnacles are harvested from the rocky cliffs off the Galician coast.
The edible part of the goose barnacles are the stems. These are usually boiled for only a few seconds in salt water with a bay leaf. The leathery skin is then removed with a rotating movement to reveal the flesh. Percebes are most commonly eaten without any other ingredients or side dishes – maybe some olive oil at most. This is the best way to experience the unique taste that reminds most of oysters and mollusks. No need for any unnecessary distractions.
What are Percebes?
Percebes or goose(neck) barnacles are actually crustaceans which attach themselves to the rocks in their larval stage through a cement gland.
The name was given to the creatures due to a believe that was widely spread in Europe many centuries ago. Before it was realized that geese would migrate to the south for breeding, people thought that geese actually hatch from barnacles due to their similarities in shape and color. Since Percebes were often found on driftwood, it was assumed that the “goose eggs” had been placed on the wooden stems before they fell into the water.
Where to find them
Goose barnacles are native to the eastern Atlantic. They can be found along the coast from France to Morocco, the Canary Islands and the Cape Verde Islands. There, they grow in the intertidal zone of rocks, floating debris and shipwrecks. Occasionally, populations even exist on the coasts of Senegal and England. As a dish, Percebes are almost solely found on the Iberian Peninsula. The traditional hot spots are towns along the Galician coast such as Corme, Cedeira or Muxía.
The best barnacles thrive only in the dangerous surf on the rocky coast. Thus, they have to be collected at high cost and risk from so-called Percebeiros. The wilder the sea and the more exposed the rocks are to the heavy tides, the meatier, thicker and also more expensive the Percebes are.
The fishermen take up to four hours in the rough sea with the waves continuously crushing against the rocks. During this time, they collect a minuscule 4-5 pounds of this rare delicacy. Back on the small fishing boats, the Percebes are handpicked as only a portion of the yield matches the quality standards for consumption.
Now, if you are in Spain, especially along the Atlantic coast, you can try goose barnacles in many restaurants or buy them on any market. So in case you feel like giving it a try yourself, here is our simple recipe:
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