Wrestling with sea urchins
Fancy tucking into some bright orange, faintly fishy gonads? Sea urchins are as delicious - trust us here - as they are improbable-sounding. We have eaten them before as part of a sushi platter but never prepared them ourselves. On our latest trip to the fishmongers we were offered a few leftover sea urchins and couldn't refuse. Time to get up close and personal with some spiky gonads and a pair of scissors.
The reading material on sea urchins out there on the interweb is many and varied with some interesting facts and beautiful photos. Peruse articles included the delightfully titled "Arctic circle gonads got me high".There are also videos a-plenty on how to crack these open and specialist sea urchin shears exist to crack off the top. In short, all it requires is a pair of scissors and a bit of nerve. It does feel slightly like you are disembowelling Miss Tigglywinkle and there are some unnerving crunching sounds, but keep going and cut off the flattish top to reveal the corals below.
As with anything likely to trigger the gag reflex, don't look too closely. They have a light creamy mousse texture and a subtle, sweet yet only very slightly fishy flavour. While the texture might not be what you are expecting, it is uniform and melts in your mouth with no unpleasant stringy or gritty bits (unless you have made a complete hash of opening them and littered it with shell debris). You might anticipate a fishy, granular mouthful but will be met with a delicate, creamy spoonful.
What to do with them.... we ended up adding the smallest squeeze of lemon and just shoving them in our gobs. A Japanese-style approach - where they are referred to as "uni" - involves serving them as nigiri sushi alongside cucumber. A more Mediterranean style is to mix them into spaghetti and we have also heard of them being churned into butter. If had had some, we would have put some of the corals on top of some rye or brioche but only to prolong the flavour and give it a little more texture.
Man cannot live on sea urchin alone as you really don't get much bang for your buck. That said, for a bit of theatre at dinner time and in the interests of trying something new without much prep, effort or equipment, we would recommend giving them a go.