Fresh Sea Urchin
Meyer Lemon Juice, Single Varietal Olive Oil, Sea Salt
For me, the Farmers Market can be a dangerous place. No, not in the sense of personal safety, but hazardous for my wallet. Last weekend I came home with heirloom baby cherry tomatoes, wild arugula, avocados, fresh salmon. All intended for dinner that night. But also in the shopping bag were yu choy, epazote, unique baby red-speckled romaine, single varietal olive oil, a bottle of safe & organic pesticide purchased from the woman who invented it, and a live sea urchin harvested just down the coast off Dana Point. Impulse purchases.
Decades ago when sushi was just becoming popular here, a date took me out to a sushi bar. He warned, “Don’t order uni, it’s disgusting.” Months (or years?) later I tasted it, and could not believe what I had been missing! I was intoxicated with the exotic, mysterious gonads of a spiky purple sea creature. Over the years I’ve enjoyed uni sushi dozens of times, and have bought many little trays of fresh uni from the Japanese market for various dishes, but until last weekend, I had never handled nor cleaned a live sea urchin.
Sharing the joys of cooking with friends in my kitchen and through Taste With The Eyes is a pleasure and a passion. Should someone one day ask, “Hey Lori Lynn, do you know how to clean a sea urchin?” I want to be able to say, “Sure, let me show you.” And that’s why a live sea urchin ended up in my shopping basket…
Fresh Sea Urchin
Texture = creamy, firm but light and buttery.
Aroma = a salty, clean ocean scent.
Color = hues of gold, yellow and orange.
Taste = sweet, crisp and clean, lingering.
How To Clean Sea Urchin
After about a half hour of research on the internet, I was ready to tackle the live sea urchin in my refrigerator. I gathered the tools I thought I would need; gloves, towel, kitchen shears, knife, spoon, chopsticks.
It turned out that the kitchen shears worked great, and I did not use the knife. I also traded my nice kitchen towel for an older one in case it would be stained. The rubber gloves worked perfectly to keep my hands safe. I watched one video where a woman used chopsticks to remove the “black stuff” in the cavity but I found it to be too slippery, so I used my fingers. And a regular spoon is the ideal tool to remove the roe. No special equipment needed.
Wearing gloves, turn the sea urchin upside-down to expose the mouth. Using a towel for stability, take the kitchen shears and pierce a hole near the perimeter of the skeleton. Then cut a circle of about a 3″ diameter out of the shell.
Use the spoon to lift up the circular cut part of the shell, then remove it and the entire chewing organ known as Aristotle’s lantern, which looks like a white star-shaped flower.
Pour out the liquid and discard the “black stuff” which is made up of its partially digested food, such as seaweed and other organic matter. Or if you are feeling particularly adventurous, drink the sea urchin liquor. The gonads of both male and female sea urchins are called “sea urchin roe” or “corals.”
Use a spoon to carefully scoop out the roe. I gently rinsed the roe in a bowl of cool water and used my fingers to remove any “black stuff” still clinging to the orange roe.
The fresh sea urchin was enjoyed simply with a squeeze of Meyer lemon juice, a drizzle of high quality olive oil, and a light sprinkling of sea salt. These components enhanced the flavors of the coral without masking its natural oceany flavors.
Wild urchins are collected by hand by commercial divers. These fisheries are environmentally friendly with little impact on the habitat and with little bycatch. Rapid reproduction and natural defenses keep sea urchin populations at healthy levels. And more than half of the sea urchin roe consumed in the US comes from urchins caught off our California coast.
Now that I am comfortable with cleaning fresh sea urchin, I plan to incorporate more of this captivating local ingredient into future menus. Do you have a favorite uni recipe or amusing uni story to share?