Marine crustaceans (not mollusks, as many think) of the subclass Cirripedia that form calcareous shells. Barnacles attach themselves to submerged surfaces such as rocks, ship bottoms, wharves, pilings and even whales and large fish. The most common of the barnacle species are the small acorn barnacles. They have whitish, cone-shaped shells with overlapping plates. Acorn barnacles are what one most often sees clinging to pilings and ships. More culinarily valued are the gooseneck (or goose) barnacles, which are known as stalked barnacles. The colorful "gooseneck" name purportedly comes from a medieval myth that said when barnacles grew to a certain size, they would fall off of the piling, pier or whatever object to which they were attached and into the water, at which point they would transform into geese. Gooseneck barnacles are particularly popular fare along the coasts of Morocco, Portugal and Spain, where they're quite plentiful. Because these barnacles attach themselves to ships, they have traveled to all parts of the world. The dark brown shell of the gooseneck is not hard like other species of barnacle, but rather more like a strong, leathery skin that surrounds a pinkish-white, fleshy tubelike neck (the edible portion). At the barnacle's apex is a cluster of white calcareous plates. Gooseneck barnacles are now being farmed in the state of Washington. They can be found in some specialty fish markets. Before cooking barnacles, thoroughly rinse them, rubbing gently to dislodge any sand. Most recipes call for quick cooking, either by boiling, steaming or grilling. Barnacles may be served hot, cold or at room temperature, usually with a simple embellishment of melted butter or any sauce commonly used for other crustaceans. To eat, peel off the outer skin, then bite off the neck. When removing the skin, a soupçon of orange (fabric-staining) liquid sometimes spurts out, so be cautious. The flavor of barnacles is compared variously to that of crab, lobster or shrimp.
From The Food Lover's Companion, Fourth edition by Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst. Copyright © 2007, 2001, 1995, 1990 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.