UNIque Porcupines of the Sea?
Sea urchins are lovely little beasts, spiny on the outside and sweet, soft and delicious on the inside.
Most Americans know them as uni, the yellow/orange roe of the sea urchin we love on sushi rice, or which some enterprising chefs are starting to make into preparations like Jean-George Vongerichten’s uni with jalapeno on pumpernickel toast, or with Maine ruby shrimp with green chili and lime.
My first encounter with them was in France, as a component of a plateau de fruits de mer (platter of shellfish), freshly opened and cleaned, with the edible part salty and sweet at the same time, also known in French as chataigne de mer, or chestnut of the sea.
My most recent, and one of the most delicious, encounters with uni was at Sushi Oto in San Diego, described by a friend as “better sushi than I get in Tokyo.” It was there that I was introduced to San Diego uni, reputed to be the best in America, and served up in several delicious, tiny dishes.
One reason for this, in addition to the extraordinary quality of the other ingredients and the chef’s talent, was freshness. Most of the uni served in the United States has been frozen, wonderful, to be sure, and a delicacy I order often. But the taste and texture of fresh uni is unmatchable, firmer yet creamy, cleaner tasting.
This 3+ minute video tells the story of where uni comes from, and how it moves from sea floor to shipment to the really good restaurants, Asian markets and a few seafood stores:
Whole sea urchins sometimes can be found in fish markets, more so in France than in the US. And, if you are charmed by their handsome appearance, but don’t want to eat it, get one as a pet!