Wednesday, February 22, 2012

"They Actually Eat That:" Sea Urchin.

Sea urchins usually do a pretty good job of making themselves look unappetizing. Look at a sea urchin head-on and you will find a ball of spikes, spikes, spikes. There is a squishy little flesh ball somewhere within that mass of pointy spines, but it is hard to get to. Point is, who thought that eating these was a good idea?

Enter Japan. If it is from the sea, they have found a way to eat it. Urchin sushi, commonly called uni, is probably one of the few ways one can get sea urchin in the non-coastal areas of the world. Despite living right near the sea, Japan imports most of its sea urchins from Korea or the U.S. Surprise, surprise, sea urchins are in sushi - just like almost everything else in the entire ocean.

With sea urchins, however, things go from bad to worse. The sexual organs (gonads) of sea urchins are a delicacy in many parts of the world. It is said to have "the flavor of caviar, the trembly texture of panna cotta and the briny but bracing strangeness that comes with eating live oysters." (link)  They can cost up to 450 USD a kilo. The genitalia are so precious that eating sea urchin corals/roe has raised concerns about preserving coral reefs. Korean women called "haenyo" are sometimes reared from birth just to harvest sea urchins.

Japan, for once, is not the only place enjoying castrating small echinoderms.  Other countries also eat sea urchins. A popular dish in the Mediterranean involves raw sea urchin with lemon. Chile eats sea urchin as well. If a place is around the sea, it has probably found away to eat urchin. An appreciation for urchin can be seen as a sign of a true foodie, so if you happen to be in on any given coast, give it a try.

GOLD! Spiny, orange gold!

Should we be surprised that sea urchin has found its way into sushi and other seaside culinary styles? Of course not. Sea urchin is just one of those things that make one wonder who first thought it was appetizing. We can make an exception for sea otters. Otters eat sea urchins on a regular basis and are impossible to stay mad at.

Look into its eyes and tell it not to eat sea urchins.

Of course, China has done worse with echinoderms...but let's save that for next week.

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