Eating Barnacles at Tertulia


The goose barnacle, shown about twice normal size

We’ve all had the usual tapas — slices of Serrano ham, toasts brushed with fresh tomato, potato tortillas, and pale-white pickled anchovies — but one of the advantages of going to a fashion-forward tapas bar is stumbling on actual Spanish products you’ve never encountered before, as these restaurants strive to present more unusual Iberian products.

A 100-gram serving of goose barnacles at Tertulia

One such is the barnacle. Long considered a nuisance by mariners and beachgoers, barnacles are never considered food in the U.S., yet in Spain and Portugal, they form a popular working-class foodstuff. You often see piles of them (called “percebes”) on ice in front of rustic taverns from Lisbon to Malaga.

From a total of 1,220 species, the most commonly eaten are goose barnacles (Pollicipes pollicipes), known for their long, fleshy necks. Barnacles typically attach themselves to rocks or other solid surfaces. They’re filter feeders, and feast largely on plankton, like whales.

You can imagine my delight in finding them one evening at Seamus Mullen’s new tapas bar, Tertulia. For $24, you get 15 of them, representing 100 grams. They arrive raw on ice, prettily arranged on a bed of lemon slices, accompanied by the garlicky white sauce allioli, and a tiny tub of shallot-laced mignonette.

The long neck of the creature extends rather grotesquely from a casing that seems to be embedded with toenails, and you have to grab the protruding flesh with your teeth and ease it out of the bony casing. The flavor is wonderful — briny, elastic, and with an elusive aftertaste, like nothing you’ve had from the sea before — culinary beauty out of zoological ugliness. Hopefully, we’ll be seeing more barnacles around town — it’s a sustainable fishery that might be further utilized.

Barnacles are served with the Spanish garlic sauce allioli, and French mignonette.

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