On Saturday morning, my wife got a call from her boss, who had just sold his motorcycle, and, as part of the sale, had acquired way more barnacles than he could consume, so he offered us some. Barnacles are a special delicacy in Spain, particularly in northern Spain and Galicia. At Christmas time, barnacle prices can reach 99 €/kg ($65/lb)! The best, most expensive ones come from the Cantabrian sea on the northern coast of Spain. On Saturday we were given 1.5 kilograms of the good, expensive barnacles, so on Sunday we had a feast.
I had never eaten or cooked barnacles, so everything was new and fascinating to me. Here's what I learned...
The reason this particular species is called "goose barnacle" originates from the middle ages, back before people realized that birds migrate. Since no one in Europe had ever seen geese nesting (they breed in the Arctic), but they did see geese near the sea, where they also saw these black and white crustaceans, they naturally assumed that the crustaceans were the young geese before undergoing a metamorphosis and taking flight. The English word "barnacle" initially only referred to the barnacle goose, and through this ignorant deduction, later came to apply to the crustacean.
If you can cook them in actual sea water, that's best. Otherwise, buy some sea salt and mix 70 grams (approximately 3.8 tablespoons) of sea salt per liter of water. You want just enough water to cover the barnacles in your pot. You can optionally throw in a bay leaf, too. The recipe, as a rhyme in the Galician language, goes like this:
auga a ferver, percebes botar, auga a ferver, percebes sacar
In English, that's:
Place the barnacles in a clean dish towel. It's best to serve them still wrapped in this towel to keep in the heat.
We prepared about half of the barnacles, so about 750 grams. It took about 10 minutes (P0H10M).
Some keywords to help Google find this recipe: Spain, Spanish, Galicia, Galician, Barnacles, Goose Barnacles, Seafood, Arthropod.
The key for me was to think of them as "little crab legs". They are crustaceans, after all.
That's the ideal scenario. As you get the hang of it, you're more likely to end up severing the whole arm when you're trying to just break the sleeve, and then you have to suck the arm out of the sleeve. You don't discard any part of it, of course, without first sucking all the wonderful sea watery goodness from every crevice.
An empty sleeve, arm removed.
The arm, still attached to the claw with sleeve removed, ready for eating.
And of course you should serve them with a chilled white wine. We had a perfect wine.
Some of the best Spanish white wine comes from the Rueda region.
For the second course, we had some grilled shrimp.
In our wine-and-crustecean-induced stupor, we retired for a little siesta. Luckily the candles we left burning didn't burn down the house.
The meal was a wonderful success. Before this weekend, I was amazed that people actually ate barnacles. Now I'm proud to be one of those people.