Friday, October 17, 2014

Try The Sea Urchin

I can't imagine how it all went down, but I am forever grateful to reap all the benefits of that intrepid soul who first dined on sea urchin.  It had to have been an epic, ancient moment of extreme hunger and courageous creativity, or a simple dare amongst impulsive youth.  However it happened, consuming the delicate, exquisitely bold uni that urchins produce is in itself an experience of ocean bliss.

Sea urchins produce 5 sets of "roe" called uni.  In actuality these sacs are the gonads and are prized by the Japanese, often offered simply on their own or in composed dishes.  Sea urchins live on the sea floor and feed on small vegetable and animal matter.  They have feet, a mouth and, most notably, dangerous spines that can be hazardous for many unaware divers.  Some sea urchins are poisonous, but the most commonly consumed red, purple, and green varieties are harmless if you are careful when opening them.  In case you were wondering there are, in fact, female and male urchins, but only they can tell the difference!  They reproduce by respectively secreting egg and sperm into the water where they meet to form a new urchin.  
Inside Icelandic Urchin
Icelandic Urchins

So why go through the trouble of cracking a sea urchin open for 5 small orange or yellow sacs?  Because there is nothing, absolutely nothing in the world comparable to a freshly opened live sea urchin roe.  The texture is velvety soft, forgiving, almost like a supple fat that disintegrates on your tongue.  The intensity of flavor grabs your imagination, it's as if you've discovered the complexity of the ocean's secrets in one bite.  There are bursts of brine, metal and algae.  Some have exotic citrus notes that balance orange zest with flower petals, while others deliver briny blasts of seaweed and heavy cream.  Sea urchin offer a surreal bouquet, flavors oysterphiles dream about and wine enthusiasts forge.

Fall and winter are some of the best months to enjoy a sea urchin.  Right now BlackSalt Fish Market is carrying live green urchin from Iceland and live Pacific urchin from California.  The Pacific urchin are bigger than the Icelandic, with the Icelandic being more subtle in flavor.  The staff there will be happy to open the urchin for you so that the uni inside is easily accessible.  If you are not up for the ultimate experience of consuming uni in the raw, you can use the extravagant flavors to add an ocean kiss to many dishes such as soups, pastas, and sauces.  On the outside sea urchins appear dangerous,impenetrable, and daunting.  Open one up and you unlock the splendor of the ocean.
CA Urchin out of shell

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