Monday, 24 January 2011

Nads The Way I Like It

The photo may look like something out of a horror movie but it's actually part of my dinner. You are looking at an opened-up European edible sea-urchin Echinus Esculentus. In the sink you can also see razorfish and some other things that look somewhat like oysters of the feral Crassostrea Virginica classification.

Yesterday was a fun and productive day of gastrobeaching. The moon at around 80% of full combined with very still weather, meant that the tide was low enough to reveal the razorfish sandbank and also some of the kelp beds. It was in those beds that we found three sea-urchins. I decided to take the smallest of the three, reasoning there would be less of it to get through, this being my first attempt at eating one. We also found a good variety of interesting seaweed: loads of sea lettuce and a red dulse-like leafy weed among the thick kelp, and a separate bed of sugar kelp farther on. After gathering our haul we chatted to other foragers on the shore about the relative merits of various razorfishing techniques.

Upon our return home I set about finding out how to eat the forbidding-looking sea-urchin. I trawled through several YouTube videos, most of them set in Japanese restaurant kitchens. The Japanese call the edible parts of the urchin, often served as sushi, "Uni" (oo-nee), and they are considered a delicacy. Their sea-urchins seemed to be of a variety with larger spines and more orange-coloured Uni. Employing the knowledge I had gleaned I took a large pair of scissors and cut into the "vent" underneath the urchin, then outwards and round to remove a circular section, leaving the main part of the shell as neat and intact as possible. While my wife hid, I took a teaspoon and tucked in.

A bit of biology first. While the edible part of of the sea-urchin is colloquially referred to as the roe, it's actually the milt-containing gonads of the creature. This isn't the best thing to bear in mind when it's quivering (from shaky hand) in your teaspoon. Let's be clear about this - the texture of the Uni is not nice. It's cold and slimy in the mouth. The flavour, however, is very good: a rich, sweet and complicated seafood flavour quite unlike any other I have tried. Determined not to waste the calorific bounty provided by this beautiful creature, I ate it all. There was a surprisingly large amount of it.

A gastronome friend has since told me that Echinus Esculentus is not considered the height of sea-urchin gastronomy but, to me, it's more important that I'm eating what's here and available right in front of my house. Eating seafood raw, within half an hour of it being plucked from the shore, will always be an experience.

Who'd have thought that scoffing the gonads of a living echinoderm could be so life-affirming.

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