Sea Urchin (Uni)

ricci di mare

erizos de mar

April 18th, 2013

Sea Urchins live in cool to temperate seas and are a popular food in the Mediterranean, the Americas, Japan, New Zealand and Korea. These creatures are globular with tiny spines – tubular feet which pump water in order to walk. These spines also protect urchins from predators, they are not harmful to humans, but can be quite painful if you step on them and get them stuck in your feet.

Erizos de Mar (Spanish) or Ricci di Mare (Italian) can be found on the sea bed from depths of about 15 feet – you have to dive for them. Thick gloves or a special tool are required to pull them off the rocks (they are quite spiky) – purple, green and brown urchins are considered to be the best ones to eat. Keep the urchins fresh in some sea water, or if you are buying them in a shop or market, eat them the same day – they go off quickly. The fishing season goes from October to May.

In most countries the urchin roe or coral (actually the gonads) are eaten raw. In Japan the uni (urchin) is served as sushi or sashimi, while in Europe they are eaten straight from their shells or with scrambled eggs, pasta and even in a gratin.

opened urchin

opened urchin

To open the sea urchin shell, wrap a towel around it or wear some stout gloves. Cut across the shell from the mouth end with a sharp knife or a scissors/nut cracker like implement specially designed for the job. The one above was opened with a knife.

sea urchin roe (gonads)

sea urchin roe (gonads)

Remove all the gooey black stuff with a spoon – it’s the orange roes that are edible. Eat them as they are or with a little squeeze of lemon.

Sea Urchins taste of the sea and have a slightly foamy, buttery texture. The taste goes well with a crisp dry white wine such as a Sancerre.

In London you can find Sea Urchins in Borough Market, Atari-ya, Billingsgate and possibly, Harrods Food HallSteve Hatt and other good fish mongers. It’s normal to see them in Mediterranean fish markets (like the Boqueria in Barcelona) when in season.

Sea Urchins are reassuringly expensive – expect to pay 8.50€ per kilo for small ones (the price increases with the size).

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About Mad Dog

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35 Responses to Sea Urchin (Uni)

  1. They grill these on the docks in Senegal.

  2. I’ve always wanted to try these, never seen them for sale in devon though.
    cheers
    marcus

    • Mad Dog says:

      I’m sure you’d like them if you like other seafood. There must be some lurking on the rocks down near you (though not necessarily in great numbers), but you might have to go and dive for them yourself. Otherwise, they are something exciting to look out for the next time you visit the Med 😉

  3. Wow, urchins are expensive down there! Free here, save for a bit of paddling or snorkelling, but I’m building up to trying them. One of the few seashore offerings I’ve not eaten. I’ve dissected plenty for undergraduate zoology labs, so I’ve no excuse regarding prep! Thanks for the inspiration to try some.

    • Mad Dog says:

      They are like creamy oysters. If you like shellfish you’ll love urchins!
      That price was a reasonable one for Spain – I think they are twice the price in London 😉

  4. Conor Bofin says:

    Great post MD. they are free here too but, I would not trust anything from the shore near Dublin.

    • Mad Dog says:

      Thanks Conor – I suppose they are free everywhere with a bit of snorkelling, but you are definitely right about being choosey. I think they should be pretty amazing near where Tracey lives 🙂

  5. Sea urchins are plentiful in Greece. I can remember my aunt constantly snacking on whatever she found, sea urchins being her favourite.

  6. Michelle says:

    Mad Dog: You are a brave man. I’ve enjoyed them in restaurants, but I think I’ll leave it at that.

  7. Tessa says:

    I’ve always wanted to try sea urchin. Next time I see them on a menu, I will most likely order them :).

  8. cecilia says:

    They are BLOODY painful when you step on them and in NZ they are called kina. I hate them. In fact you would have to pay ME the expensive ticket to eat them again. But there you are. I LOVE paua though! c

  9. Eha says:

    Agree with Celi: even opening them can lead to painful problems! BUT what a wonderful taste . . . oh, love paua too . . . and thanks for the ‘lesson’ 🙂 !

    • Mad Dog says:

      It’s quite a task holding on to them to cut the top off. You have to be careful not to stab yourself just carrying them home! They do taste great though 🙂

  10. ChgoJohn says:

    A great post, MD, though I don’t know when I’ll try uni again. My one and only experience was dreadful and I have a bit of a disconnect when I read that they’re actually good to eat. I suppose I’ll try it again one day — but not for a while. 😉

  11. I have eaten them and they are fantastic. I also have the dubious claim to fame of having stepped on one (hideosly painful) on the same beach in Almeria where a few weeks later a scene from Indiana Jones was filmed with Harrison Ford and Sean Connery racing across the sand on horses. I think it was safe for them as I had obviously cleared the beach of urchins by then 😉

  12. expatchef says:

    Love sea urchin, raw though. I have tried the gazillion cooked preparations here, and I find that it loses that wonderful “taste of the ocean” quality and becomes very, very strong! Beautiful pictures Craig!!!

  13. I’ve never tried sea urchin.. isn’t it available in sushi as well? I think I’ve seen it offered at a sushi place near us. What an exotic dish.. and flavour!

  14. andreamynard says:

    I love sea urchins, great to read about them. But blimey, they’re expensive in London! Haven’t had them for ages, scoffed lots very cheaply years ago by the sea in Morocco. And had an equally memorable, if less pleasurable, experience treading on one too. Can verify they do hurt a bit.

  15. sybaritica says:

    Fascinating post… I’ve only had urchin a couple of times as a sashimi preparation. It is interesting to see the whole thing. I wish I could lay my hands on the fresh article for my own kitchen 😦

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