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.
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.
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.
In London you can find Sea Urchins in Borough Market, Atari-ya, Billingsgate and possibly, Harrods Food Hall, Steve 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). See here for a look at commercial preparation.