MADRID - A jellyfish soup? Or a mini-bundle of blanched vegetables with julienne strips of jellyfish? A prestigious Catalan chef plans to take advantage of the gloopy stinging creatures that plague Mediterranean beaches every summer and float them on to the region's menus as a gastronomic delicacy.
Carme Ruscalleda, who has won five Michelin stars for her restaurants worldwide, has developed a range of jellyfish-based dishes for her flagship Sant Pau restaurant in the coastal town of Sant Pol de Mar near Barcelona.
Most people who encounter jellyfish at close range may see them as a painful, if not disgusting, menace to be avoided, but Ms Ruscalleda praises them as "beautiful marine princesses".
Her efforts to bring jellyfish to Spanish dinner tables are unlikely to make inroads on the 16 tons that were washed up last year on beaches in Andalucia alone, but she hopes to shift a sceptical public opinion in favour of a food that she insists is a marine delicacy.
"They really have quite a wonderful flavour and texture, crunchy but tender," Ms Ruscalleda enthuses, "but they need careful treatment. We drop them live into coarse salt for 12 hours. We open them, clean out the insides, drain them and eat them directly with a vinaigrette dressing. Or you can add them to a vegetable fideua [a traditional Catalan dish]. They cook with the heat of the fideos [noodles] taken straight from the oven."
So far Ms Ruscalleda has tried out her experimental dishes only on her culinary colleagues - "my creative team" - but she plans to put them before the public next year if marine scientists and food regulators approve.
She imports her specimens from China, but plans eventually to use Mediterranean supplies.
The marine invaders may produce miles of unsightly shoreline debris, and cause rashes and swollen limbs for unwary holidaymakers, but jellyfish could indeed be a nutritious superfood, according to a report commissioned by Spain's environment ministry.
"Jellyfish contain 95 per cent water and the rest comprises mainly proteins. They contain almost no lipids, carbohydrates or cholesterol, so they could be a source of healthy food," according to the Bionaturis report, which was backed by Andalucias's Innovation and Development Agency.
"They may also serve as fertiliser, and for use in the cosmetic industry, for their high collagen content," according to the report, published in yesterday's El Pais.
The Chinese and Japanese have already developed a taste for jellyfish, and Ms Ruscalleda has tried many jellyfish dishes during her visits to her Sant Pau restaurant in Tokyo.
She favours Cotylorhyza Tuberculata - known to Mediterranean fishermen as "fried eggs" - and Rhopilema Esculentum, because of their strong flavour, and began experimenting a year ago.
"We started buying them in Chinese gastronomic fishmongers in Barcelona," she says.
Her plan is to use Mediterranean supplies, if the dishes catch on.
Fellow gastronomes however remain cautious: "I'm not sure the Spanish are quite ready for this," says Angel Leon, another chef specialising in marine nouvelle cuisine.