My first run-in (literally) with the sea urchin occurred in the Spring when coming in from a kitesurfing session in Montpellier, France. Upon landing my kite I reached down to pick up my board; not realizing that putting my hand in the water would result in an unpleasant splinter and a blooding finger. The sharp pain quickly sobered me up from my session’s adrenaline; prompting me to take note that I was surrounded by hundreds of these spiky sea creatures. My bad-ass kiteboarding self squeaked like a little girl and tip-toed back to shore to inquire about these unforgiving nuisances. Apparently, “les oursins” which are considered a delicacy in many parts of the world, especially in Japan, infest the Mediterranean beaches in the Spring.
I felt conflicted as a kitesurfer and a foodie. I was annoyed to be faced with a new obstacle in the water (it’s hard enough strapping a 14 meter kite to my waist in wind) but intrigued to know this sushi bar delicacy was living two feet under my gliding board.
A few weeks ago we arrived to the island of Brač , Croatia where, once again, the shallow baby blue waters run rampant with sea urchins, or uni. The locals are amused that other people regard sea urchins’ roe as a prized item as the feeling isn’t mutual. Somehow, despite being an avid sushi lover, I’ve managed to avoid the foamy orange sushi bar fare. It hasn’t been a conscious decision necessarily but rather an overlooked opportunity. Like, most food obsessed folk, nothing makes me happier than the farm to table concept. Being able to grow, forage and hunt for one’s food; eating it in the freshest state possible (and knowing the source) is what living is all about. Needless to say, Chris and I loaded up our snorkel gear and found a remote beach in Bol, Croatia where we could gather a handful of sea urchins.
A couple interesting facts on sea urchins (uni):
- Some sea urchins, also called sea hedgehogs, can leave behind a venomous sting if they puncture human skin. Unlike, jelly fish stings whose first aid remedy can be to urinate on it to reduce the discomfort, this solution will not work for on uni. Here’s the protocol if you get pricked by a venomous one in the future.
- The roe (fish eggs), which is the edible part, are considered an aphrodisiac. The roe is concentrated in many of the vitamins and minerals like B, E and K that stimulate vitality and sex-organ health.
- Sea urchin life is a positive sign of contaminant-reduced water as they seek out clean and pH balanced salt water.
They were relatively easy to grab and, fortunately, the Adriatic sea urchins are not venomous. I took 5 uni back to the apartment to crack open. The process of opening them is relatively simple compared to the process of killing crab and lobster which I find emotionally taxing. Put two spoons on the mouth side back-to-back and press hard enough to crack. Pull the spoons apart to see the goods.
My findings are as follows:
- The color varied drastically between urchins. These color variations are due to: diet, water temperature and spawning time.
- There was about 3 of these little sacs per urchin which I see as a low output to labor ratio.
- Not surprisingly, they tasted like fishy seawater eggs.
Conclusion, high labor + low output + dissatisfying taste= I probably won’t be eating them again until Jiro prepares it for me in Tokyo. But here’s the thing! These little roe slugs pack an ocean punch that would be ideal for: bisques, fish stocks or any seafood sauce that you need more flavor or a red color. i.e seafood risotto with shrimp or squid would be beautiful. In the mean time, I know someone who will happily clear my plate.
The full uni hunting experience caught on video