My niece and I accompanied my cousin to a local market during one of our visits to Sorsogon in Bicol. It was an opportunity for us to experience shopping for fresh produce in a less crowded environment and my five year old niece had the time of her life poking and squeezing fruits and vegetables that were displayed in carts and nipa stalls. It was then that we chanced upon some fresh pen shell meat that my cousin immediately bought so we can sample her cooking of this delicacy from Sorsogon.
They call this type of shellfish meat “baluko”, it looks like a hybrid of scallops and mussel meat with some tentacle like extensions. Bicolanos would normally cook it in coconut milk with chili but since we were already having coconut crabs for dinner, my cousin decided to go for fried “baluko”. There are two versions of fried pen shell meat, one is to simply season it with salt and pepper, then deep fry it in a pan for a few minutes. Another way to do it is to coat it with a batter made up of flour, salt and pepper before deep frying. The plain and battered pen shell meat tasted the same except the battered ones had more texture and crunch in them which is why I liked them better. The fried meat was crunchy on the outside and a bit chewy, the round part of the meat tastes like scallops too and the tentacle like extension are like bland and less chewy versions of squid tentacles. You can eat them with plain vinegar dip or spicy vinegar dip which is a mixture of vinegar, garlic, onion and chili.
It was my first encounter with this type of shellfish and I totally enjoyed it. I have yet to find pen shell meat in our local wet market or grocery so cooking and eating “baluko” is definitely on my ”to do” list for our next trip to the province of Sorsogon.