A wild goose barnacle chase

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Source: theguardian.com

There’s a right way and a wrong way to eat a goose barnacle. And contrary to popular opinion, the wrong way is to eat it is in Galicia.

The goose barnacles of Galicia are prized worldwide – songs are sung along the Costa da Morte to the glory of the percebes and the bravery of the percebeiros who risk a rocky death to bring their catch to the plates of gastronomic pilgrims. But the glory comes at a price. Jostle your way to the front of a Galician fishmarket and you can pay upwards of a hundred euros for a kilo of barnacles, if you’re fool enough.
Or you can jump on a budget flight to Lisbon, drive 40 minutes up the coast to the unfashionable seaside town of Nazaré, and glut yourself on goose barnacles for a fifth of the cost: six euros for a 300g dose, and another euro for a glass of vinho verde. The food of the gods at recession prices. The barnacles of the Silver Coast may not be as gloriously rotund as their Galician rivals, but they’re every bit as sweet.

The goose barnacle has to be one of the most beautiful foods on the planet. The bright enamelled head with its ruby lips sits atop a snakeskin sleeve which pulls away to reveal a glossy, lucent finger of flesh, marbled and grey at the neck, bright orange at the tip. They’re the punks of the crustacean family. They thrive in violent waters, in their leathery jackets and studded collars, their heads a shock of colour.

I recently spent a long weekend chasing these gaudy morsels around the bars and restaurants of Nazaré, which is a thoroughly Portuguese holiday resort – hardly a British accent in earshot.

I recently spent a long weekend chasing these gaudy morsels around the bars and restaurants of Nazaré, which is a thoroughly Portuguese holiday resort – hardly a British accent in earshot.

An awkward jumble of a town with a less than lovely sprawl of apartment blocks to the south, Nazaré hasn’t done much to trouble the pages of the travel guides despite having a fabulous beach, a really charming older uptown and more seafood restaurants than you could chew through in a month. Impossibly narrow alleys are packed with bars serving cockles, crabs and clams.

Not a drop of goodness escapes the barnacle when it’s cooked. The tightly-woven sleeve acts like a bag, sealing in the essence of the ocean. There’s a gentle intensity to the barnacle flesh. Similar, in a way, to octopus, only more refined. They’re nothing like a mussel, all tubes and organs. They’re simpler. Purer. The best of the sea boiled down into a mouthful.

But goose barnacles don’t just taste of the ocean: they actually immerse you in it. Quite often (unless you’re an expert, which I’m not) when you pinch off the sleeve, you get a fat squirt of brine in the eye or down your chest. It’s a strangely mimetic experience. In being eaten, the goose barnacle shares the theatre of its life with you.

You finish the meal wet, as if you’ve just been out on a wave-splashed rock with your mouth open. And yet, after 20 minutes on the beach to dry the front of your shirt you find your thoughts turning back to the barnacle. And that’s always the risk: goose barnacles can become a dangerous addiction – but in Portugal at least, it’s a cheap one.

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