Percebes (Goose barnacles)

A real Galician threat: percebes, also known in English as goose or gooseneck barnacles. This seafood looks all but delicious, but they definitely taste so!

What kind of animal is the goose barnacle?

The goose barnacle is a type of crustaceons and belong to the clayfish family. At the dinner table it’s just marvellous seafood.

The animal is also known as the animal with the largest penis in the world. The genitals can grow up to five times the size of the rest of the body. They use this large penis to reach out to other animals for fertilization at a distance.

Goose barnacle vs barnacle goose

A goose barnacle is a type of barnacle, and not familiar with the barnacle goose. The names look familiair, the same two words in different order, but the animals are absolutely different and have nothing in common.

The name goose barnacle however does have something to do with the flying barnacle goose. In the medieval era it was unknown that birds migrate. People had never seen barnacle gooses nest and thought they generated spontaneously. As the barnacles have the same colour it was thought they fell in the water from branches and later converted into flying gooses.

Hunting percebes

It’s not just the marvellous taste, but also the adventurous catching of percebes that contributes to their fame. The percebes are hunted by so-called ‘percebeiros’ (barnacle hunters). They risk their lives scraping the barnacles from the peaky rocks as the wild ocean pounds at them.

Percebeiros in action hunting barnacles
© Thomas Cristofoletti 2011

Hunting percebes is a real art. And can be vary dangerous. Have you ever noted white crosses at strange spots on the rocks at the Galician coast? Big change at this place a percebeiro has been killed during his hunt for the barnacles.

Why is it that dangerous? Percebes grow on rocks, just like many other seafood. The barnacle prefers to grow on hard to reach rocks at the Galician coast. The well known rugged rocks that Galicia is famous for, where the wild ocean continuously smashes down, where many boats have sunk and where the coastline has the frightning name Costa da Morte (Coast of Death).

Percebeiros that go hunting for barnacles risk their live to go into the water at those dangerous places to scrape the animals from the rocks. Off course they have some protection. They wear wet suites that protect them to the cold water, they are (often) secured to a rope like a mountain climber in case the ocean grabs them. But this all cannot protect them from getting smashed to the rocks. They have to be very careful.

The instrument for hunting barnacles is the ‘rapa’. This instrument is an iron bar with a flat tip. With this they can scrape the percebes from the rocks. The animals are well sticked to the rocks and not easy to catch, if they weren’t sticked that good the ocean would have grabt them before. Once grabbed the hunter put the animal directly in a net that he has attached to his suit. And while hunting, he continuously has an eye on the ocean. Is there a big wave coming up? Can he dodge the wave or does he needs to brace himself for the confrontation?

Just have a look at the following video from BBC to see some percebeiros at work:

Eating and cooking barnacles

In contrast to the difficulty of hunting them, cooking percebes is quite easy. There is an old Galician saying: ‘Auga a server, percebes botar’. This means: when the water boiles, the percebes are ready to serve. That’s all! The main taste is not in the preperation but in the animal, you don’t have to add taste.

Percebes served

Eating the percebes has, like with many seafood, a small instruction. To eat pull the end of the barnacle off the fleshy stems and then slurp up its fleshy insides. A pure sea taste, delicious!

Bo proveito!