There are countless weird and wonderful creatures that humans eat with a certain ferocity. Many strange foods that some of us would steer clear away from are considered delicacies. Some of these unusual creatures are eaten live, and while this may seem strange, there is usually a good reason for this.
Sea urchins are a delicacy and have a delicious, subtle umami flavor favored by people across the globe. When eating sea urchins straight from their shells, their flavor is preserved, and the texture is far more enjoyable. Sea urchins don’t last long once removed from their shells.
While it can be difficult to get your hands on fresh sea urchins, you will notice a significant difference between a sea urchin eaten straight out of its shell and one that has been processed. Aside from this, the novelty of eating a sea urchin straight from its shell is certainly hard to forget.
Why Do People Eat Sea Urchins Alive?
You might have seen packaged sea urchins in your local seafood shop. Before being sold, these have been carefully opened up, cleaned, and sorted according to grade. Restaurants are one of the biggest purchasers of sea urchins. The packaged sea urchins will usually be shipped out to them on the same day as they have been processed.
Like most seafood, sea urchins are best when eaten as fresh as possible. A fresh sea urchin eaten straight out of the shell (after cleaning) will deliver maximum flavor and the best possible texture. Sea urchins have incredible, butter-like texture and a simultaneously sweet and salty flavor, best described as umami.
This enjoyable texture and flavor is at its peak when eaten straight from the shell, as soon as possible after the sea urchin has been caught. While processed sea urchins are still delicious and used in various restaurant dishes, nothing beats the freshness of a sea urchin directly out of the sea.
Once a sea urchin has been removed from its shell and killed, it has a very limited shelf life. It will quickly lose flavor and adopt a less-than-ideal texture if left out of the fridge for even an hour.
One of the most important factors when eating sea urchins is ensuring that the juice is kept inside it. The juices are where the majority of the flavor comes from. Naturally, once a sea urchin has been removed from its shell, it starts to decay quickly, and it quickly starts to lose its flavor-giving juices.
The parts of the sea urchin that we eat are its reproductive organs. These are the orange, tongue-like sections of the urchin’s innards. Often referred to as uni, these delicate organs have an extremely soft, creamy texture with a salty flavor. They are mildly sweet and slightly salty.
Processing sea urchins can often cause them to lose their delicate flavor. They may adopt a more fish-like flavor with a less desirable texture.
How To Prepare Sea Urchins For Eating
To prepare a sea urchin for eating, you need to clean it out carefully. Wearing gloves will ensure that you don’t hurt yourself (remember that while sea urchin stings can’t injure you, they can certainly be painful).
Starting at the bottom of the urchin – its mouth – begin by using a pair of scissors and cutting open the area around the mouth. Next, carefully remove the bottom segment of the shell without damaging the roe. (This refers to the orange tongue-like parts of the creature).
Pour out any liquid inside the shell, and remove any brown bits that you see. This can be done using your fingers or a pair of tweezers. Rinse the entire urchin out, preferably with brine water, and scoop it out to use as you like, or eat it straight out of its shell.
Sea Urchins In Restaurants
The sea urchins used in restaurants are generally fished and picked from the sea on the same day that they are served. Unless the restaurant is serving fresh sea urchins in their shells, they will rely on processed urchins in other dishes.
Commercial processing plants will have their urchins brought in from the sea. Their staff will quickly clean the urchins and place the edible parts into packages before being sent to restaurants.
Restaurants will keep the urchins in the fridge until they are ready to serve them, as they will quickly lose their flavor if left out at room temperature. In a restaurant, if not being served as a delicacy straight out of their shell, sea urchins are used in various dishes.
Thanks to their delicate flavor and creamy texture, sea urchins can be used in various pasta dishes. Their inherent creaminess allows them to be used as the base for many sauces and marinades, and chefs today are becoming increasingly creative with the dishes they create from sea urchins.
Typical applications for uni also include sushi or simply eating the meat placed on top of rice. Lemon juice is a great addition to sea urchins that brings out its inherent flavors. Its buttery texture is well complemented by the addition of butter. Sea urchin is even served on top of toast in some parts of the world.
Sea Urchins As Parasites
As the trend of incorporating sea urchins into food dishes became more popular, certain urchin populations became over-fished to a large degree. However, in certain parts of the US, the urchin population has become a major pest.
On the West Coast of the US, sea urchins have reproduced rapidly and started eliminating the kelp forests. This has become a major problem for other sea creatures that rely on the kelp forests for nutrients, especially abalone.
Due to the above, it would be highly beneficial to the rest of the ocean population along the west coast if the sea urchins were largely caught and eaten. This would not only be a highly commercially viable endeavor, but it would ensure that the ocean creatures who rely on kelp for survival will be able to survive.
Like most foods (especially seafood), sea urchins are best eaten as fresh as possible. The fresher the sea urchin, the better the flavor and texture. Eating a sea urchin straight out of its shell is the best way to ensure you are getting maximum flavor and freshness.