PERCEBES – A DELICACY LOVED IN THE IBERIAN PENINSULA
The goose barnacles come from the order Pedunculata and comprise of various species. Also known as stalked barnacles, gooseneck barnacles or the culinary popular/spanish name ‘perceives’.
This particular barnacle deserves its own flavour profile. It is probably the most highly regarded barnacle on the culinary scene right now. In Portugal and Spain they are really popular especially in the northern coastal regions. The Galicians and Asturians cannot get enough of them and over in Alentejo in the southwestern Portuguese coast. Goose barnacles are found not only in this region but also in Morocco, Canada, Chile and parts of the US coastline.
Basically these barnacles are filter-feeding crustaceans that spend their life attached to hard surfaces of rocks and anything else they can partially submerged in crashing waves half the time. Exceptional flavour but pretty bizarre looking. This goes a long way to explain why they are not globally popular. Getting over the ‘weird’ factor takes time and good marketing. Even to this day there are a millions who would not even go near an oyster. Despite this the popularity of the goose barnacle has risen consistently as global appetite for new flavours increases.
When fully mature they have a thick trunk with tinges of rose on the inner tube. At one end it has the head that attaches to a rock or any surface it can and the other a dinosaur claw liked foot. When high tide arrives it uses tiny pink tendrils to filter the seawater to feed.
THE FLAVOUR PROFILE
Goose barnacles are really tasty. That is the general consensus of anyone who loves seafood. A lot of people think that if its a barnacle they must taste like rubber. This really could not be further from the truth in the case of percebes. Their flavour profile is one of lobster combined, the texture of oyster and the saltiness of the sea. It really is a king of the culinary world for those that cook it.
SCIENCE OF THE GOOSE BARNACLE
While not particularly rich in nutrition it is certainly is not bad for you. Clearly in the case of this ingredient the health benefits are outweighed by the culinary importance.
GETTING IT READY TO EAT
Goose barnacles are using found at the source (i.e. in fish markets) on the coast or in higher end restaurants. If you do find them do not turn down the opportunity. They grow in very wild regions and are actually dangerous to harvest so the chances of finding them at a market are rare. To collect the percebes, percebeiros often have to descend down climbs and then face strong waves as they try to hack off each goose barnacle. High risk, a delicious flavour and a limited cultivation all adds up to an expensive ingredient. Really they should be eaten as soon as possible but you could hold onto them for a couple of days before cooking them up.
HOW TO USE IT?
Despite its intimidating appearance eating it is straightforward. Pinch the foot and pull the inner tube out of the case with a twisting motion to break it away. The goose barnacle is amazing as a warm snack. A coastal version of tapas we could say. Traditionally, they are boiled for a short time along with some salt and a bay leaf. This is served pipping hard with a napkin. These delicious crustaceans need nothing else to taste incredible.
The first time I ate barnacles, I was in Chile where they are called picorocos and served on their own or in a seafood stew called curanto. They have a unique flavor, but are in some ways reminiscent of lobster and crab.
FLAVOUR COMBINATION SUGGESTIONS
Obviously like other crustaceans they do combine really well with a multitude of ingredients. The reality is though like oysters you should try them on their own with a little enhancement – some salt.
- Do not overcook them. They can go from delicious to a rubbery mess in seconds. Anyone who has cooked scallops or squid knows this. Treat them with care and cook long enough to warm them through. That is all they need.
- To get the real deal go to the source. The regions mentioned earlier are where you will find fresh goose barnacles. Very high end restaurants do serve excellent percebes too but often at exorbitant prices.
LUXURY OR STABLE? THE POLEMIC OYSTER
Oysters are considered at the height of gastronomic sophistication. Nothing symbolises luxury more than a platter of oysters and caviar followed by champagne. This does not mean that everyone loves this delicacy. In fact many would say there is nothing more disgusting and pretentious than a load of oysters. They are surprisingly common in many parts of the world and seen as a relatively humble and abundant ingredient. This goes against the hyped up image of exclusivity that many inner city oyster bars try to portray.
The oyster family (ostreidae) comprises a number of distinct bivalve molluscs. They either live in marine or brackish habitats. Generally speaking there are two types of oyster (true or pearl) with the former being edible.
From all the hundreds of oyster varieties they all come from only five species. The Pacific Oysters, Kumamoto Oysters, European Flat Oysters, Atlantic and Olympia Oysters. Each oyster species are defined by a unique looking shell.
An oyster is basically a mollusc with a hard shell that ranges from black to white in colour, with a soft inner gooey centre (the edible part). It is challenging to open an oyster and needs to done with care and persistance.
SCIENCE OF OYSTERS
Nutrition benefits of oysters have long been a strong reason to eat them. They are an excellent source of zinc, iron, calcium, selenium and Vitamin A + B12.
THE FLAVOUR PROFILE
Each species of oyster has a different flavour profile depending on how much salinity it has, the mineral content and nutrient variations. It relies heavily on the external conditions it grows in. Generally speaking an oyster will taste rather salty, a slight sweetness, minerally and rich. Its texture has a characteristic slimey quality that usually is the factor that disgusts so many people about eating it. The best flavour profiles are often found in younger oysters and obviously eaten as fresh as possible. This crucial as you are eating an ingredient that is essentially still alive.
Most oyster eating purists will insist that they should be eaten raw with a little salt or lemon to taste as well as a knob of butter. The magic of a delicious oyster is it’s simplicity. Having said that oysters can be cooked in other ways to produce excellent results. Steamed, baked and even fried all create interesting variations of this delicacy.
Oysters pair really well with herbs, sharp ingredients like vinegar and lemon as well as other protein like pork and chicken. In itself an oyster is creamy and rich so ingredients that cut through this work perfectly.
Buy oysters from a supplier that has a good reputation.
Oysters must be eaten or cooked alive to reduce any health risks and for the best flavour profile.
SHELLFISH HEAVEN IN SHORT SUPPLY
Right up there with lobster and oysters for gastronomic importance, abalone meat is highly desired around the world and limited in supply. The flesh of abalones is widely considered to be a desirable food, consumed raw or cooked in a variety of cultures.
Abalones comprise a large number of marine gastropod molluscs in the Haliotidae family. The number of species ranges from 30-130.
They have a thick inner layer of the shell famous for being the mother of pearl, highly iridescent and spectacular used for decorative purposes.
Abalone is farmed in 3 important Asian countries. China, Japan and Korea as well as in Australia, Canada, Chile, France, Iceland, Ireland, Mexico, Namibia, New Zealand, South Africa, Thailand and the US.
The abalone market has suffered from overfishing due its gastronomic importance. It is considered a delicacy and luxury in many countries especially France, China, Vietnam, Japan and Korea.
The foot of the abalone is what we are really interested in. It lies flat against a surface protected by muscles. When it is pulled away the muscle retracts to protect its foot. A single shell protects the mollusc.
The mollusc Concholepas concholepas (loco) is often sold in the United States under the name “Chilean abalone”, though it is not an abalone, but a muricid. Its obviously very popular in Chile especially around the port of Valparaiso.
The largest abalone is found in South Africa, Haliotis midae while Ormers (Haliotis tuberculata) are considered a delicacy in the British Channel Islands and coastal regions of France.
THE FLAVOUR PROFILE
If you like scallop and squid, abalone is for you. Its texture is very similar to them with a crunch like sensation found in conches. It has a certain firmness and chewiness that proofs very attractive either eaten raw or cooked. As Abalone is cooked it has a sweet, creamy and salty flavour also found in clams and lobster.
Abalone can be eaten fresh/raw or in frozen form. In both forms they should have little to no aroma. Live abalone should respond when touched as this is a sign of freshness.
PREPARING AND COOKING AN ABALONE
Abalone meat must tenderised with a mallet before eating. Using a sharp knife the foot can be removed from the shell by cutting through the connective tissue. The darker portions near the head, gills and viscera should be removed then the abalone needs to be cleaned well with water.
The abalone should be treated the same as a scallop. Cooked for no more than 1-2mins on each side in a very hot pan with some oil then served immediately. Cooking it any longer can leave it tasting more like a shoe than seafood.
Abalone (awabi) is really popular in sushi dishes. It has a rubbery texture in raw form that is often preferred over the cooked texture. Abalone is often used in sushi dishes as the meat toughens when cooked. It can also be served steamed, salted, boiled or simmered in soy sauce. In California Abalone is often added as a pizza topping while in Chile they serve it in a gooey cheese and bread seafood stew called Chupa de Loco.
When purchasing an abalone ask if it has been already tenderized. If it has doing it more will most likely ruin the meat.
Make sure the abalone comes from a source you trust. There are a lot of imitations.
If you just bought fresh abalone it is recommended to eat it the same day. Alternatively it can frozen to be used within two months.