Me and the Sea

I’ve always felt an affinity for the sea. Growing up near the shore, it was forever a part of my life. But it’s only been the last decade or so that I’ve begun to feel its pull in a more primal way, like gravity. I need the sea.



Fresh off a week of deep ocean connecting on the bluffs in Puerto Vallarta, we got invited to the bluffs in Malibu for a night with our friends Nadine and Andrew at the Steve McQueen beach house. Which was good, because I was already missing the sea.

Lately when I’m by the sea, I always seem to be wondering what I can eat. Standing on the deck at the Steve McQueen beach house, I watched fish and skates swimming through the clear surf, and thought about cooking them. In Puerto Vallarta, I gathered sea urchins, oysters and sea vegetables from the rocks. It’s part, I think, of my passion for finding and gathering my own culinary treasures. (My pal Nat suggested that we needed to go hunting, that I would really love it. I don’t think I would really love it. I like to hunt mushrooms, they don’t give you a sad look when you pluck them.)

Being by the sea, I feel compelled to cook seafood. For dinner in Malibu, I brought various marine creatures including yellowtail and red snapper for Asian-style ceviches, and lots of little baby sweet shrimp also for the ceviche as well as to tempura fry and serve atop a sea urchin risotto. Waiting for my children to get out of school that afternoon, my scavenging instincts got the better of me and I headed to the school garden to see if there were any edible blossoms I could use. BINGO! — several plants had bolted and I was able to collect cilantro, arugula and mustard flowers to use in my dinner. The only terrestrial intrusion into the menu was a rather beautiful Iberico belotta pork flatiron steak, grilled and served atop an artichoke flan with granny smith apple butter and tempura scallions.

Trio of ceviches (l to r): sorrel lace tempura with sweet shrimp and cilantro blossoms; red snapper with ponzu, kudzu chip and tomato powders; and hamachi with mustard flowers, yuzu and white truffle oil on nasturtium leaves

Trio of ceviches (l to r): sorrel lace tempura with sweet shrimp and cilantro blossoms; red snapper with ponzu, kudzu chip and tomato powders; and hamachi with mustard flowers, garlic chips, yuzu and white truffle oil on nasturtium leaves

In all the various times we’ve gone to north Malibu to stay with Nadine and Andrew, I’ve always gazed curiously at the fleshy, prehistoric-looking barnacles that appear on the rocks at low tide. They looked for all the world like the photos I’ve seen of Spain’s prized percebes — gooseneck barnacles that are a highly sought-after delicacy in the Mediterranean, and which command beaucoup bucks at fancy New York City eateries. I’d researched and researched, but never found any information as to whether the ones here were edible. Finally, a few months ago, I’d spoken with a marine biologist with knowledge of the California tidal zone, and he assured me I could eat pretty much anything I wanted to.

So the morning of our departure from Malibu back to Topanga, I went out to the rocks armed with a bag and a knife. I carved 25 or 30 of the tens of thousands of barnacles off — unsure whether they would actually be edible, I didn’t want to take too many. I got home, blanched them in salted water, plated them with some kelp and set them out in front of some friends who had come over to help celebrate my birthday. To my surprise, my guests were intrigued. We peeled off the rough outer “skin” and sampled the meat — first unadorned, and then with a quick garlic butter I whipped up.

“I think that’s the best shellfish I’ve ever had,” said friend Curtis.

And then I couldn’t stop them — my guests — who gobbled the goosenecks in record time, leaving none for latecomers. They even ate the kelp.

I decided not to include a percebes recipe, since all I did was blanch them and serve them with butter. And it’s probably even pointless sharing an esoteric recipe like the one below, given the unusual ingredients (“I’m having trouble sourcing baby sweet shrimp, herb flowers and sorrel leaves here in Oklahoma — can you suggest substitutions?”) and tiny low-return-on-time-invested serving sizes. But it’s better than asking you to go scrape barnacles off a rock for dinner, right? And if you ever wanna really wow your guests and can find the stuff, give this one a try.

*    *    *

Sorrel lace tempura with sweet shrimp ceviche and cilantro flowers
serves 4 as a very delicate appetizer

12 baby sweet shrimp (*available at Japanese markets)
1 tsp. lemon juice
1 tbsp. olive oil
4 oz. flour
1 egg yolk
6 oz. ice water
1 cup canola or vegetable oil
12 small leaves red-veined sorrel
1 tbsp. cilantro blossoms (or other small flowers such as thyme or rosemary blossoms)
flaky sea salt & freshly ground pepper

With the flat side of a chef’s knife, gently press down on each of the sweet shrimps, flattening them slightly. Remove tail shell and discard. Drizzle shrimps with lemon juice and olive oil, stir gently to coat, cover and refrigerate.

Make your tempura batter: place flour in a bowl, and make a well in the center. Add egg yoke, then ice water. Stir until mixed but still slightly lumpy.

Heat oil over medium high heat in a small deep skillet or wok. Test by dropping a drop of tempura batter into the oil. If it is ready, the batter will sizzle and float on the top. Dip one side of each sorrel leaf in the batter and drop into the oil, batter side down. Fry for about a minute, or until batter is crisp and golden but not brown. Gently turn the leaf over with tongs or a fork, and fry on the second side. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate to drain.

When all the leaves have been cooked and have cooled to room temperature, compose your ceviches. Arrange three leaves on each of four plates. Top each leaf with a single shrimp. Top each shrimp with a few delicate cilantro (or other herb) blossoms. Sprinkle to taste with flaky sea salt and freshly ground pepper.

(Note: You will have more tempura batter than you’ll need. While you’ve got it and the oil is hot anyway, you could build a whole tempura dinner around this appetizer.)

9 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. rachelocal
    Apr 01, 2014 @ 00:23:48

    So did you have to cook your own birthday dinner?

    Your recipe looks divine and those barnacles DO look prehistoric.


    • scolgin
      Apr 01, 2014 @ 01:47:38

      Well, I didn’t HAVE to… but I did. 🙂

      (I like to feed people, so that’s what I chose to do… We’re going out to celebrate tomorrow.)


  2. catsholiday
    Apr 01, 2014 @ 09:47:38

    Wow looks fabulous!!


  3. Michelle
    Apr 02, 2014 @ 01:30:26

    OK, I admit it. I probably wouldn’t want to eat the barnacles. But Steve definitely would. 🙂


  4. Jessamine in PDX
    Apr 04, 2014 @ 04:25:06

    I’ve been meaning to comment on this post for a while but then life would interrupt. (By that I mean I read WordPress at work and then have to actually work, sigh.) I love the sea too — growing up on a small island, I’m used to being by beaches, ocean waves and salty water. Portland at least has a river running through it so I’m not far from water, but it doesn’t compare at all to the sea. I’m jealous you got so much quality time with it!

    Also — hope that Iberico was rockin’!


    • scolgin
      Apr 04, 2014 @ 15:37:22

      You are my Iberico fairy. It was off the charts delicious. Please put me down for another. 😀 (Actually, I’ve got some friends who want some stuff… so I may put another order in soon.) NOW, you just have to start repping some seafood too — can you score me some bottarga!?? 😉


      • Jessamine in PDX
        Apr 06, 2014 @ 18:09:26

        Bottarga — I wish! But we did just get in a new shipment of Iberico. I can’t remember what cuts you got last time but the pluma and presa are unbelievable. Let me know whenever you’re ready and we’ll make it happen!

  5. Trackback: Thankful for Stuff (not Stuffing) | skinny girls & mayonnaise

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