2023 Limited Release: Gooseneck Barnacles
What happens when a craft canner, a sea forager, and a storyteller fall in love with the same curious Alaskan sea creature, the Gooseneck Barnacle (“the what?” some of you say)? You get a collective idea that other people will fall in love it, too.
Since then the Gooseneck has found its way onto the tables of seafood lovers abroad. Percebes (the common name for a similar species) have been harvested commercially by coastal fishermen along the Iberian Peninsula for generations, and craft makers like Conservas de Cambados have been canning them for many years. Despite being a common species throughout the West Coast and as far south as Mexico, only one North American commercial fishery exists on Vancouver Island, Canada. United States eaters are late to the party; imagine that.
So, a mythical culinary origin story and a lack of commercial availability to our most intrepid domestic seafood explorers?? The Alaska Gooseneck Barnacle was clearly made for the Wildfish Cannery retort. And in the summer of ‘22, the first barnacles made it into the first Alaska tins.
The story begins in the seaside town of Klawock at Wildfish Cannery, with Chef Mathew Scaletta at the helm. Known throughout Alaska for fusing global tinned fish traditions with Alaska flavors, Scaletta’s curiosity about food—and his precise craft for preserving it—keeps his eyes, ears, and palette on a constant hunt for new culinary creations. “If you’ve got a weird idea, bring it; I’m all ears” is his motto. And it’s not a solo effort: beloved by geoduck divers and Bering Sea fishermen alike, Scaletta's ingredient-driven ingenuity has helped to create new valuable markets for his hard-working fishermen friends, whose catches are too often undervalued.One hundred thirty-five miles northwest of Klawock, on Baranof Island, Evan O’Brien heard Scaletta's call for the curious and picked up the phone. Equally obsessed with wild foods (and with the added foraging nature and adventuring spirit that keeps him primarily off-grid), Evan was eager to chat with Scaletta about his latest hand-harvested Gooseneck Barnacle bounty, and the work he was doing with Alaska scientists at the Department of Fish & Game on a pilot project to test the feasibility of a commercial fishery for Gooseneck Barnacles. O'Brien had the local know-how and the energy to secure the bounty, but he needed a partner to help preserve and market his catch.
Scaletta and O'Brien quickly learned the power of a business relationship fueled by tastes, not transactions. A friendship was born, and soon beautiful swimming Pink Sea Scallops and fresh Gooseneck Barnacles were traveling by Alaska Sea Planes from Sitka to Klawock. Piles of petite shells began decorating the counters of the test kitchen until the perfect processing techniques were formulated.
"There’s something about the canning process that makes a tinned Gooseneck even better. The texture is softer, and the tenderness and the briny flavor is similar to an olive,” reminisces O'Brien when describing his first taste from the tin. “The high-pressure methods of preserving seafood impact the protein in ways that cannot be achieved through traditional cooking methods,” adds Scaletta, “I’ve always felt that canning was next-level cooking, and this is a perfect example of that.” Still, the tins were finished, but the story stayed underground.
It would finally come to life when Alaska’s most beloved photographer and photojournalist entered the picture. A curious food lover with an eye made for exploring the Last Frontier, Bethany Goodrich was already a long-time friend and collaborator of Scaletta's. And Goodrich was no stranger to Goosenecks before she got the call from Scaletta. “I’ve always been fascinated by the creepy cool of barnacles,” says Goodrich. She’d often photograph them on her travels abroad at the fresh markets. “They are otherworldly in their peculiarness; their strangeness makes them so attractive," Goodrich delights.
Interestingly enough, Goodrich knows a lot of people breaking ground in Alaska’s food scene, but she didn't know O'Brien until Scaletta called to tell her about the Gooseneck project. The best, most “Alaskan” part of this is that O'Brien lived just down the road from her, and although they had never met, they had probably spent more days than they realized exploring the same beaches and coastlines at exactly the same time.
So one early morning, the two of them set off, O’Brien with his harvest gear and Goodrich with her camera, ready to capture the story in a way that would visually bring new life to our traditional golden tins, with images of the harvest grounds wrapped around them.
And now, Wildfish’s Gooseneck Barnacles in Brine is ready for you to admire, taste and enjoy. It’s the result of a trifecta of forager, canner, and storyteller, collaborating to expand the culinary curiosities inside Wildfish’s pantry.
Be sure to read on to part II of our story, A Day In The Life: Harvesting Gooseneck Barnacles, where you’ll learn more about O’Brien’s day on the harvest grounds. All of the featured photos in Part I of this story are courtesy of Bethany Goodrich. View Bethany's work on her website and be sure to follow along @bethanygoodrich