Eating Sea Monsters

They aren’t going to win any beauty contests and may well find their way into one of those American reality TV shows where hicks eat durians and throw up, but once you can convince yourself to try them, you will never look back! Here in Asia of course, where we eat boiled pig skin, fish maw and sea cucumbers, the Pollicipes Pollicipes has no chance of escaping uneaten. Before I tell you how to prepare them and how to get hold of them in the first place, a little story.

The Goose Barnacle, order of the Pedunculata has a most peculiar history. Let’s start with the attractive bird above; The Barnacle Goose. Before we knew that birds migrate, the fact that no one had ever seen a nest of these geese gave rise to the theory of spontaneous generation and our unlikely barnacle was thought to be the crustacean that spontaneously generated our goose, a process neatly illustrated here:

Barnacle geese hang from tree, (Miniature) Barnacle geese, as described by Gerald of Wales. They develop from beams in the water and hang from trees enclosed in shells until they can grow feathers and fly. Image taken from Bestiary. Originally published in England (Salisbury?); 1230-1240.

Like all great culinary delicacies, Percebes don’t come cheap, so one should try not to kill them by boiling them to death. I think clams and shells are best prepared as simply as possible. In fact I think the same goes for crustaceans. Lobster Thermidor may seem like a great invention, but give me a “homard en belle vue” anyday! Simply boiled whole in the shell, left to cool and then split in half and eaten with mayonnaise is the way to go.

My own little batch of percebes came from one of our suppliers as a sample and after this successful tasting it’s going on the menu as soon as a menu can be handed to customers again. So here’s what you do if you happen to find some goose barnacles stuck to the rock at the edge of the sea:

Percebes straight from the Sea

Well, almost straight from the sea. The idea is to make them taste like they come straight from the sea. And the best way to do that is to boil them just like the fishermen do in seawater. I don’t necessarily recommend getting a bucket of sea water from Port Klang, so the next best thing is to use mineral water and add a sea-like quantity of sea salt to it. How much, I hear you ask, is that? The average salinity of the sea is 35g per litre, but I like it a little saltier, so I add 50g to my litre of water. Not quite the dead sea (that’s 342g/litre), but definitely saltier than the Atlantic. I find that little hit of salt when you bite into the barnacle is a bit like the salt on edamame beans – happy making.

  • 500g percebes
  • 1 litre mineral water
  • 50g sea salt
  • 1 lemon, seeded and cut into wedges

This will feed 3-4 people as a starter. Try to find some very good, organic or natural sea salt. That means Himalayan is out, because the Himalayas are not by the sea. Please don’t think it doesn’t matter. It does. And obviously do NOT use table salt with all its iodine and additives. We are only using three ingredients, so don’t screw it up!

Add the salt to the water and bring it to a rolling boil. While the water is getting to a boil, fill your serving bowl with boiling water to make sure it is really hot. Add the percebes, straight from the chiller all at once to your pot of boiling water and keep the heat high. Once the water is boiling again, count 60 seconds and take the pot off the heat. Do not just turn the heat off, but actually remove the pot from the source of heat. It makes a difference. Count another 60 seconds and scoop the percebes out of the water. (Don’t throw the water away quite yet) While the percebes are soaking for those 60 seconds, throw the water out of the serving bowl and wipe it dry. It should be so hot you need a towel to hold the bowl. Put your cooked percebes into this hot bowl, cover with a cloth and serve.

I know it doesn’t exactly scream “Eat Me”.

There may be some percebes that are stuck together in clusters of three or more. Pick them out and throw them back into the hot salt water for another minute. Don’t forget them!

Your intrepid chef happily eating his treat. Where can you get them here in KL? Well, you will have to wait until our restaurants open again, hopefully June 2021 after the lock down ends.

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