I have a strong interest in food. I am also a very adventurous eater; snails and frogs’ legs are tame compared to the Thai delights of silk worm, bamboo worm, cricket and congealed chicken blood that I’ve sampled. I read cookery books, watch cookery programs – at least, those that don’t turn it into a competitive sport – and my mind tends to hang on to the unusual. My knowledge is not encyclopaedic but I do have a bit of a reputation for having a decent knowledge of the gastronomic art.
A fascinating looking pile of something on Valencia market seafood stall had me stumped. Whatever it was, it had my friend Chris, also keen on seafood, stumped as well. The stall holder did not appear to speak English and Chris’s Spanish – he’s lived here for 11 years – proved inadequate for the Spanish explanation, too. Here’s the picture of our intriguing food item again. I had stared at them with a long buried memory nagging, trying to escape, but all to no avail. I felt frustrated.
Fortunately, my complete photograph carefully included the Spanish name, percebe. Cheap they are not, this pile being priced at some 12.50€ for ¼kg. A swift Internet search revealed them to be Goose Barnacles, or Goose-necked Barnacles. These are a highly prized Galician speciality. I even found a Gordon Ramsay F-Word program on YouTube showing how they were gathered and then cooked. The maniacs who go out fishing for the percebes are called perceberos. They dress themselves as they think appropriate and jump around rough, craggy rocks being pounded by crashing Atlantic surf – sometimes they seem to dive into the surf itself – armed with a simple knife on a stick, apparently the only tool they’re allowed, harvesting these hapless crustaceans manually. No wonder they command such a high price.
Percebes are traditionally boiled briefly in sea water but you can fake that out with some salt and fresh water – 70g salt to each litre water seems the recommended dose. There should be just enough water to cover your prized purchase. Bring the water to the boil, then chuck in the percebes. When the water returns to the boil, stop – fish them out – on no account over cook them. Naturally, that F-ing Gordon Ramsey tarted them up with some fino sherry, bay leaves and cream.
What you eat is not the white-mottled claw end; use this as a handle to hold the beast then strip the leathery casing off the fleshy arm, and eat that. No, the fleshy arm, not the leathery casing!!
Now, of course, having found something interesting that I’ve never tried, I am desperate to give them a go. We’ll be having to return to Valencia market on a future trip ‘cos that’s the only place I know to get the beasts.
[And well done to those of you who jumped the gun with the answer, you smart arses! 😀 ]