Monday, August 05, 2013

All about Sea Urchins

Recently I had sea urchin served on a bed of softly scrambled eggs with brioche toast at MKT (a new restaurant in the Four Seasons in San Francisco). It was probably the sweetest tasting sea urchin I had ever eaten. The waiter told me it came from the North Coast, near Mendocino (I've also had sea urchin from Hokkaido, Santa Barbara and in Morocco). Sea urchin is a delicacy that you might know from sushi bars where it's called uni. But it's also used in other cuisines. In Italian it's called ricci di mare, in Spanish it's erizo de mar. The color of the edible part is usually a murky orange, although sometimes it's dark yellow or almost red.

The edible part of the sea urchin is not the roe, although that's typically how it's described. The five large lobes are gonads. They can be eaten raw or cooked, but the texture is best raw. Pureed, they make a luscious sauce that does not need to be cooked. Sea urchin gonads look like little tongues and their texture is buttery and creamy. Sea urchin has a briny flavor that's hard to describe. It can be a bit sweet or a little bit salty, it has funky earthy kind of taste. It's something you either love or hate.

You can buy sea urchins live in the shell or in a tray. I've always bought it at a Japanese market, but Whole Foods stores in San Francisco have just started carrying "California Gold" quality and whole fresh California red sea urchin caught between Fort Bragg and Mendocino. California Gold, was formerly known as Grade A and according to the California Sea Urchin Commission, it's described as "bright gold, yellow or orange color; firm buttery texture; fresh salty ocean scent; and with a sweet buttery taste. Uni sections are large and complete intact pieces. This is exceptionally high-grade uni for use in top quality sushi."

As far as nutrition goes, sea urchin is fairly low in fat, but is a good source of omega 3 fatty acids, polyunsaturated fatty acids, protein and zinc. It's harvested completely sustainably, with no by catch, since it's hand collected by divers.

 If you buy it in the shell, you can break it open either with shears or spoons. You don't need a recipe to enjoy sea urchin, you can eat it fresh out of the shell with just a squeeze of lemon, but here are some ideas if you feel like experimenting:

* On top of or in scrambled eggs

* As a simple pasta sauce

* In a souffle

Ceviche style 

* In soup

* On bruschetta

* In risotto

* On pizza

* In a compound butter

With ramps or chives and linguine

Carbonara style with bottarga

More Pacific Urchin Harvesters recipes 

Disclaimer: My thanks to Whole Foods for providing me with some sea urchins. Recipes coming soon!