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Six ways to eat gooseneck barnacles, the weird sea creatures that are all over Toronto’s haute menus

(Image: Renée Suen)

At Marben, percebes are steamed in white wine and herbs. (Image: Rob Bragagnolo, Marben)

Gooseneck barnacles, also called percebes, are crustaceans that cling to rocks in places that have a strong crashing surf. In Spain and Portugal, they’re considered a rare and wonderful delicacy, thanks to their sweet flesh, which tastes a bit like a cross between lobster and clam. They’re also impossibly ugly (they resemble some type of prehistoric clawed beast) and extremely expensive, largely because gathering them is such risky and controversial work. In Europe, a single kilo of percebes can fetch almost $500. Their Canadian counterparts, which are hand-picked off the coast of Vancouver Island by the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nation, cost over $20 per pound—if you can get your hands on them at all, which regular consumers generally can’t. Luckily, some of Toronto’s best restaurants are doing wonderful things with these odd-looking shellfish. You’ll want to hurry, though: percebes are only in season until the end of May, and once they’re gone, they’re gone.

1. Bar Isabel
At his Spanish restaurant in Little Italy, chef Grant van Gameren serves percebes over thinly sliced raw artichokes with lots of butter and garlic. $20.
797 College St., 416-532-2222

2. Canoe
On Canoe’s spring menu, percebes are paired with pasta, shellfish mousse and sea asparagus in a coastal-inspired take on cannelloni. $26
66 Wellington St. W., 416-364-0054

3. Hopgood’s Foodliner
Simplicity is key for chef Geoff Hopgood. He blanches the crustaceans, and then dresses them in olive oil, parsley, lemon and butter. $14.
325 Roncesvalles Ave., 416-533-2723

4. Marben
After a decade living and working in Spain, chef Rob Bragagnolo knows his percebes. He likes to steam them in a mixture of white wine, chili, lemon and fresh herbs. He recommends pairing the dish with a glass of sparkling wine. $15.
488 Wellington St. W., 416-979-1990

5. Le Sélect
Over at Le Sélect, Albert Ponzo tosses blanched percebes in a sherry cream sauce and serves them with fiddleheads, celery and wild greens. $16.
432 Wellington St. W., 416-596-6405

6. East Thirty-Six
At month-old East Thirty Six, Brent Maxwell sautées percebes with olive oil, ramps and preserved lemon. $15
36 Wellington St. E., 647-350-3636

 

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