Believe it or not, barnacles are edible and delicious! That’s right, these creatures, commonly considered to be pests of the sea, can be harvested and prepared like any other seafood (provided they’re the right kind, of course). Award-winning chef Ryan Poli of The Catbird Seat in Nashville, TN is working with gooseneck barnacles and hopes to have them on his menu soon. What are gooseneck barnacles? They’re the claw-footed, lobstery little crustaceans you’ll fall madly in love with, if you just give them a chance.

We caught up with Poli to discuss the intricacies of this rarely utilized yet wholly sustainable ingredient and see how he’s using these unsung heroes to liven up plates.

What’s the main difference between gooseneck barnacles and the one you see stuck to the undersides of boats?
Gooseneck barnacles have more meat inside them due to their size. The ones we are accustomed to seeing on the bottom of boats or rocks are very hard and short, with little meat to harvest.

How do you source them?
We source them through a company called Mikuni Wild Harvest in Washington.

Where do they grow naturally?
They grow in intertidal zones in the ocean, on rocks that get hit by the tide repeatedly. They’re available all year round, as long as you can find someone to harvest them.

Can you compare their flavor to another shellfish?
To me they have a lobster-like flavor. They are a little sweet and have a chewy texture to them. They’re a really versatile crustacean.

How are you utilizing them now, and what was the research and development process like?
We are currently using them in a ceviche with grilled white asparagus (steamed in an intense hen of the woods mushroom oil) and peanut milk. We marinate the barnacles in lemon juice, finger limes, chives, lemon oil and lemon balm. The peanut milk is made by puréeing raw blanched peanuts with mushroom dashi, heated up with a little of the mushroom oil and salt.

I did my original R&D for the barnacles when I was in Spain, where I worked with them quite a bit. In Spain, gooseneck barnacles are a delicacy, like caviar here in the U.S. Here at The Catbird Seat, we blanch them, which allows us to treat them like a raw product, so we can play with them pretty easily to create dishes that best spotlight their flavor.

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How did you come to pair them with white asparagus, and what’s been the diner response to this new dish?
We decided to treat the barnacles like lobster, and paired them with ideas we had for lobster dishes. It’s also not easy to get the guests to try them. Don’t be scared, they’re delicious!

What’s the most challenging part about working with barnacles?
They are actually very easy to work with; the hard part is sourcing them. Because they grow off the edges of giant rocks that get hit by the tide over and over, harvesting them is a dangerous profession! This can impact the quantity and frequency with which we can get them.