Rappahannock Oyster Bar chef Kevin Kelly had never prepared barnacles before, but when his new New York–based seafood purveyor Pierless Fish had some available, he decided to give them a try.
"They're kind of difficult to get sometimes. And they are somewhat expensive," Kelly says. The gooseneck barnacles were harvested off the coast of Spain in a rocky high-tide area. "They're, in some sense, dangerous to harvest."
After doing some research, Kelly decided to cook them with a simple broth of sherry, thyme, garlic, oil, lemon, paprika oil, and onions. The $20 special isn't listed on the menu; you have to ask for them. The Union Market seafood spot has already gone through about 12 to 15 pounds of barnacles, but Kelly is placing another order. That crustaceans will be available this week, although probably not today. Kelly hopes to continue to make them an off-and-on special when he can get them.
The barnacles have a hard shell on one end that looks like a little claw, and a coarse tube-like skin that surrounds the tender purplish pink edible part inside. The best method I found for eating them is to twist off the tube, dip the meat in the broth, and bite it off from the shell. It has the subtly sweet, ocean-y taste and slightly chewy texture of clams. And like blue crabs, it's a lot of work for not a lot of food.
"They're very hands-on eating," Kelly says.
Photo by Jessica Sidman