The A-Z of Sea Urchins

The A-Z of Sea Urchins

July 17, 2020

Sea Urchins have become one of the most divine culinary seafood delicacies.

Sea urchins are one of the most popular ingredients at moment in the worlds creative kitchens. Below is an A-Z list of facts about sea urchins that you may not have known. We are taking you on a journey across the globe to see how and where sea urchin makes its mark.

Auction at Tsukuji. Sea urchin and many other sea dwelling animals (primarily tuna) are auctioned off at Tsukiji Market in Japan. At these markets there are only five sea urchin wholesalers (named Tosui, Daitogyorui, Daichi, Marunaka and Toichi). These sea urchins are not only from Japan but are also imported from other regions. Middlemen known as Nakagai can take a look and thoroughly inspect the wholesalers sea urchins from 1am. However, the auction starts between 4 and 5am. Unlike the tuna auction, the middlemen at these auctions cannot outbid each other by upping the price. Instead, they all have to raise their hands at once to show how much they are willing to pay for the Sea Urchin. The winner will then sell to their respective clients which are mostly commonly chefs.

Bread. In Italy and Spain, a common way to eat Sea Urchin is with fresh white bread. Across the noble there a few innovative and fearless chefs who have their own take on the bread-and-urchin-pairing. In San Francisco, Joshua Skenes at the restaurant Saison has created a dish called ‘Liquid Toast’. The dish entails cold sea urchin on top of grilled toast that is soaked in delicious warm bread sauce (this sauce is Mae of brown butter, egg yolk and soy sauce). In the United Kingdom, chef Lee Tiernan at the restaurant Black Axe Mangal serves a delicious salt-and-sake-preserved sea urchin which is on top of a hot squid inky flat bread topped with both egg yolk and edible glitter!

Champagne. It is said that sea urchins pair nicely with vintage grower champagnes as both the minerality and acidity of the champagne lift the richness of the sea urchin. To pair with sea urchin Sandia Chang, sea urchin lover, sommelier and owner of Bulldogs (A champagne bar in London) recommends 2000 Benoit Lahaye and Selosse Substance, for non vintage she recommends Tarlant Cuvee Louis.

Dali. Salvador Dali associates himself with sea urchins in his art. He loved their natural form and their “sedative and narcotic virtues”. Dali was a surrealist artist born in Catalonia in Spain and has captured sea urchins in a variety of his works, such as “The Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus (1959). It is also said that Dali himself ate 36 sea urchins for lunch one day.

Ezobafun Uni. This is one of the two main edible species of sea urchin in Japan. It is sometimes referred to as Hokkaido Aka Uni or cold water Aka Uni for its colour and origin. Ezobafun Uni are small with a shell diameter of up to 5cm. They also have short spikes ranging between 5-8mm. The gonads are bright orange, plump and short and the flavour of these urchins are rich and very sweet.

Farming. Sea urchin farming is most common in Japan, Korea and China both in the sea and on the shore. More often than not, farming within the sea is done to recultivate aquaculture based from the large depletion of stock after the fishing season. A more experimental version of sea urchin farming takes place on shore. In Okinawa, both sugarcane and banana leaves contain mineral compounds similar to the types in seaweed. These leaves are utilised as feeds for the sea urchins.

Gusal. This is a soup made from sea urchins that originates from Jeju island in South Korea. It is nice both eaten cold and hot. To make this soup, the sea urchin are boiled in a pot with seaweed.

History of Consumption. Archaelogical evidences have indicated that there was prehistoric consumption of sea urchins in North and South America, New Zealand. Evidence also shows that the Coast Salish had large sea urchin feasts.

Italian Cooking. The most well known sea urchin dish that originated from Sicily in Italy is Spaghetti ai Ricci di Mare. In Sicily, sea urchins used to grow in abundance (these days there are less due to diminishing sea algae). The dish is prepared by pan-frying the sea urchin with garlic, olive oil, parsley and then tossing in with the spaghetti.

Jeju Women Divers. These women are also known as Haenyeo, they are professional female divers who spend their days diving and catching sea products including sea urchins along the coast of Jeju Island. When diving they don’t use any mechanical equipment. The history of these divers can be traced right back to the Jose Dynasty (1392-1897).

Kita Murasaki Uni. This is the other type of main edible sea urchin sold in Japan. They are sometimes referred to Shiro Uni as it has a paler colour compared to Ezobafun Uni. The shells of Kita Murasak Uni grow unto 10cm and their spikes are long ranging from 1.6cm to 3cm in length. The lobes in the type of sea urchin are pale, long and yellow, they are also recognised by their lingering aftertaste. These special sea urchins are sold for unto 130,000 JPY (1,750 AUD) per box of 400-450g.

Legs. Although sea urchins don’t have legs, they can move by pumping water out of their tube feet.

Molecular Gastronomy. The Spanish sea urchins caught in Costa Brava are know for being molecularised by a Catalan native called Ferran Adria. Adria, created ‘The First Foam’ in 1994. It was a dish of sea urchin that was topped with a white-bean ‘foam’ that resembles mousse at the restaurant El Bulli. This was the first usage of of foam in gastronomy.

Nigiri. This common type of sea urchin nigiri also know as “battleship shape” or Gunkanmaki. The nigiri is made by shaping the rice into an oval shape, then a sheet f Nori seaweed is wrapped around it and lastly wasabi is added and the sea urchin is placed on top.

Omnivorous. Sea urchins are omnivorous. Although their main diet is made up of kelp, they also feed on sea cucumbers, brittle stars and mussels. The diet of each species of sea urchin is variable and this is what dictates the taste of the urchin.

Preserving. There are a variety of ways to preserve sea urchins. The most common two are salt cured (also known as Shio Uni) and preserved in sea water (also known as Ensui). Shio Uni can be cured with only salter salt and sake. The flavour is enhanced with further ageing under specific conditions, however over time the lobes of the sea urchin will use their shape and become paste like. Ensui is made but cleaning the sea urchins and then keeping them in a sterilised saltwater solution. Some processors source really deep seawater (200-300m) as it has the ability to bring out the umami in the lobes of the sea urchin. This keeps the lobe shape intact.

Quality. To tell the quality of a sea urchin, it is decided not by tasting the urchin but by observing it. In Japan, auctioneers will carefully inspect the processed box on uni. They will pay attention to the organisation and flawlessness, consistent colour, size and the scent of the lobes. They also pay attention to the reputation of each sea urchin processing company. They do not taste the sea urchin and rely on feedback from other sources regarding the taste.

Roddie Sloane. Is Scottish and provides sea urchins to the world’s best chefs and restaurants. He lives in the Arctic Circle which is on the coast of Norway. He hand dives for green sea urchins in the icy water. He then provides them to chefs like Rene Redxepi, Magnus Nilsson and Esben Holmboe Bang.

Seasons. Sea urchins are not necessarily best to eat in the winter months. The type of sea urchins that are caught and prepared in each location are based upon seasonal availability. In Japan both Ezobafun and Kita Murasaki Uni are summer sea urchins and caught between March and August and June and August respectively. At Sea Urchin Harvest we dive the Centro Urchin (Centrostephanus) which is a long-spine urchin which can get up to 30 centimetres in diameter. This type of Urchin can form extensive Urchin barrens and are generally located on rocky reefs, in shallow reef habitat. The Centro Urchin is a native species of New South Wales (NSW) but has grown in population along the East Coast of Australia and can now be found as far down as Port Davey on the South West coast of Tasmania. The delicate but large Sea Urchin Roe have maximum natural sweetness which is unique to the NSW South Coast. The best months to dive for Sea Urchin Roe along this coastline is generally from December through to June, when the Roe is large and is at its peak flavor.

Tasmania. In Tasmania scientists are encouraging sea urchin fishing as a way of eco-culinary activism. The sea urchins in Australia bring havoc to the coasts by eating all the kelp which in turn drastically reduces the numbers of lobsters and abalones.

USA. The fishing of sea urchins takes places on both the East and West Coast of America. On the Set Coast, particularly in Maine, Boston the Bafun Uni is caught. On the West Coast between Santa Barbara and Mendocino in California the Amerika-Mursaki Uni is caught. The sea urchin fishing industry in America dates back to the end of the 1980’s however all of the sea urchins would be exported to Japan.

Vietnamese Cooking. In Phu Quoc in Vietnam sea urchins are a speciality. Sea urchins are grilled in their shells above a charcoal fire. The flesh is then seasoned with lime, spring onions, salt and crushed peanuts.

Work. The process of cleaning sea urchin is quite a process and does require some work. To start, you crack the shell open in half and remove the lobes. Then you need to rinse the lobes in salty water. Discard of any of the extra shell and inners. You can remove the excess water by resting the lobes on paper towel. Be careful with the lobes as they are very delicate. When removing from the paper towel be careful not to damage them.

XX/XY. The gender of sea urchins is determined by examining the lobes. Males tend to have less water content and their lobes are a more vibrant colour. They also tend to stay fresher for longer. The females have paler lobes. They are softer and therefore easier to melt, therefore they do not keep as long as males, however, they are tastier.

Yellow Gonads. Inside the sea urchins, the gonads are the only edible part. They are referred to as ‘lobes’ or ‘roe’. The colour of the gonads depends on the type of species, the gender as well as the diet of the sea urchin.

Zinc. Sea urchins are not only rich in flavour, but they are also a great source of vitamins like zinc and fatty acids. 

About Sea Urchin Harvest

Sea Urchin Harvest sells premium Sea Urchin Uni & Sea Urchin Roe from Australia’s iconic east coast. All of our Uni is caught fresh and delivered fresh to you! If you have any questions about ordering Sea Urchin Uni for your commercial business please get in contact via the Contact Us Page or alternatively call us on 0414 441 136.




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