Percebes – Food to Die For

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A much sought-after delicacy found on the menu at Madrid and Barcelona’s finest restaurants are percebes or gooseneck barnacles.  A plate of these creatures from the sea could cost over a hundred euro or more and even at that price there is a constant demand for these delicacies.

The story of the gooseneck barnacle or percebes starts many miles away on the Costa de la Muerte, the aptly named Coast of Death on the coast of Galicia in Spain. This rocky coastline, the graveyard of some hundreds of ships, is where the percebeiros of Galicia risk life and limb to harvest this most valuable crop.

The percebe or gooseneck barnacle, which unlike other molluscs such as mussels, has so far resisted all attempts at cultivation, is to be found attached to the many rocks off the coast where it is battered by the rough Atlantic waves.

Firmly attached to the rockface, they thrive in the area between high and low tide and it seems that the finest specimens are found where the waves hit the rocks with the greatest force. Where they are to be found dictates that the best time for the percebeiros to brave the surf is at the full moon and the new moon. As the percebes live mainly below sea level, this is the time when at low tide they can be harvested.

Harvesting these expensive delicacies is no easy task. The percebeiros must climb onto the rocks and secure their ropes above the waterline before lowering themselves into the crashing waves. Armed with a metal spatula to prise the treasured barnacles from the rock they must labour precariously where the sea meets the rocks while constantly being pounded by the Atlantic waves. Working in small groups for safety, constant vigilance is needed. The force of the waves crashing on the rocks is a constant danger and a rogue wave can spell serious injury or worse. And worse does happen. The cruel sea claims percebeiros with disturbing regularity.

Harvesting of the gooseneck barnacle is closely regulated. A percebeiro, who must be licensed, may only harvest some 6 kilos in a day and must sell them at the local Government controlled market. From here this jewel of the sea departs on its journey to the top tables of the big cities of Spain where they are simply prepared in boiling water, preferably sea water, for just a few minutes before being served without seasoning or sauce.

Perhaps the best way to enjoy  percebes without breaking the bank is in Galicia itself at Festa do Percebe in Corme which takes place in July each year.

You can check the date of the next festival here Percebes Festival in Corme, Galicia


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