Looks aren’t everything when it comes to downing a plate of Barnacles or Percebes but there is something rather beautiful about these sea crustacea native to Portugal and the aptly named Costa da Morte (Coast of Death) in Galicia, Northern Spain. Beaten hard by strong currents in secluded and hard-to-reach places Percebes foraging isn’t for the faint hearted. It’s a tricky business to make it to the rocks, and back again without the picker doing themselves a mischief.
Percebes have a bright shiny head with ruby lips and a long snake-skin neck which when pulled away, reveals a column of flesh, which tastes a little like a cross between cockles and lobster. Barnacles latch on to rocks at one end and at the other opens to reveal pink tendril ribbons which filter seawater to feed. Portuguese barnacles are cheaper than their Spanish cousins but the super sweet taste is just the same. Eating them is something of a skill but once you get the hang of it you’ll be away. You pinch the foot between your thumb and finger and pull the tasty liner out of its black rubber-like case, twist off the claw, be sure to ready yourself for the squirt of warm brine (which is something of an impossibility) and eat the resulting flesh.
If you have a local fishmonger who aims to please, I’m sure they can source you these prehistoric-looking beauties, but better still is in a beachfront restaurant looking at the craggy rocks from which they’ve been plucked.
Hop on a plane to Lisbon, drive about 19 miles, follow signs to Sintra, and look out for signs to the beach at Adraga and here you’ll find the family run Restaurante da Adraga.
As you’d expect, the seafood is incredibly fresh with large lobsters and crabs being kept in tanks, any fish ordered is brought to the table for approval, before it’s cooked. Plates of Percebes come hot here, but cooled down with ice and you’ll get a completely different flavour profile.
Whilst it may have no frills the food is rich and exquisite in its simple preparation. Order the garlic-laden clams, lightly steamed and served in a bath of rich olive oil
or the large prawns with a thick, creamy mayonnaise,
octopus, with a side helping of garlic and fresh runner beans
and the catch of the day with potatoes and salad, filleted at your table.
The local wine is rather good too, dry and made to partner the fish. From Casal Sta. Maria the Sauvignon Blanc was a beautiful pale yellow with excellent acidity, crisp and made to partner our fish dishes.
Next time you see a plate of Perecebes, give them a try, it’s one of those dishes you can’t stop eating.
If you’re looking for somewhere to stay, The Oitvaos is a spectacular hotel about a twenty-minute drive away, in Caiscas.
If you do decide to visit this part of Portugal, you should book at able for the restaurant. If you’re Portuguese is a little rusty, don’t worry, they speak great English.
Restaurante da Adraga, Praia da Adraga, 2705-063 Sintra.
00 351 21 928 00 28