Sea urchin

Other Names: Achinós (Greek); deniz kestanesi (Turkish); erizo de mar (Spanish); morskoy yezh (Russian); orsino, riccio di mare (Italian); ouriço do mar (Portuguese); oursin (French); seeigel (German); sjoeppinsvin (Norwegian); uni (Japanese). Echnidae, Stronglyocentrotidae.

General Description: Sea urchins are spine-encrusted globes that resemble seagoing porcupines. There are about 500 species of sea urchins, but the most valuable commercially are the red (Echinus esculentus_), the green (Strongylocentrotus drobachiensis_), and the purple (Paracentrotus lividus). They are considered a great delicacy in many parts of the world. These baseball-sized, spiny creatures have a hard shell containing a star-shaped, orange-colored mass that is the edible portion and is either the gonads of the male or the eggs of the female. In America, West Coast urchins are harvested by divers; East Coast urchins are harvested by divers and by trawlers. The roe may be found in Asian markets.

Locale and Season: The red sea urchin is found throughout northern Europe and the Mediterranean. Red, green, and purple sea urchins are harvested on the American Pacific coast. Green sea urchins are commercially harvested
on the American Atlantic coast. The largest American producers are California for red urchins and Maine for green urchins. Peak season for red urchins is October to May; peak season for green urchins is November to March.

Characteristics: The red is the largest, about 7 inches in diameter. The green is the smallest, at 1 1/2 inches in diameter. The roe ranges in color from bright yellow to deep
orange. Sea urchin roe should taste sweet and have a smooth, rich, buttery texture. The male “roe,” actually the gonads, is fine and silky, the female’s more grainy.

How to Choose: Choose sweet-smelling live sea urchins. Choose sea urchin roe with the membrane enclosing the roe completely intact. Preserved roe, or uni, at the market has been soaked in an alum and salt solution to firm.

Storage: Prepare live sea urchins the day they’re purchased or harvested. Store the roe refrigerated 2 to 3 days.


1. To clean live sea urchin, insert heavy shears into the
hole on the domed top. Cut around the top of the shell, cutting toward the outer edge, exposing the flesh. Pour away the liquid and the dark viscera.

2. Inside are 5 pairs of roe that go from top to bottom
on the inside of the shell. Carefully run a rubber spatula under the roe, along the inside of the shell. The roe is incredibly fragile; try to keep it whole. Use your fingers or tweezers to remove any viscera.

3. Rinse the roe in cold water and drain well.

4. Sauté, steam, add to sauces, or eat raw with a squeeze of lemon.

Suggested Recipe: Creamed Sea Urchin on Toast (serves 6): Sauté 3 tablespoons chopped shallots in 2 tablespoons butter until softened. Add 1 cup white wine and cook until
syrupy, about 6 minutes. Add 2 cups heavy cream and cook down again until thickened, about 8 minutes. Press 3/4 pound sea urchin roe through a sieve into the mixture. Combine gently, season with salt and white pepper, and stir in 2 tablespoons sliced chives. Serve on toast spread with garlic butter.

Flavor Affinities: Butter, cayenne, chives, cream, dashi, garlic, lemon, lime, mirin, mushroom, nori, olive oil, scallion, shallot, shiso, soy sauce, water chestnuts, white wine.

from Quirk Books: www.quirkbooks.com