Sea urchin has overcome some major PR problems. On the outside it looks like a cross between a hand grenade and a hedgehog; on the inside it has roe sacs the texture of butterscotch pudding. Weird? Yes, but also delicious. Sea urchin, also known by its Japanese name, uni, was once the province of only the most intrepid sushi warriors. But it has slithered into the hands of some of the country’s most creative chefs. “The clean, neutral taste of fresh sea urchin makes it very versatile,” says Ori Menashe, chef-owner of Bestia in Los Angeles. “I can use it with pasta, pork, eggs and fish.” With these three easy recipes from Menashe, now you can dive into uni’s buttery, briny lusciousness.
1. Uni Pasta
Cook one pound spaghetti. Sauté two minced shallots, two minced garlic cloves and a pinch of chili flakes in a pan over medium heat. Add splashes of white wine and vegetable stock. Whisk one-third cup sea urchin into a puree. Transfer cooked pasta to pan with shallots and garlic; turn off heat. Add puree and toss to coat spaghetti. 2. Uni Crudo
Lay eight half-inch-thick nectarine wedges on a serving platter. Place a sea urchin “tongue” on each nectarine and drape over each wedge one thin slice of lardo (Italian-style cured pork belly; order the La Quercia brand at murrayscheese.com). Sprinkle with sea salt and roughly torn fresh mint leaves. Drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil.
3. Uni Crostini
Beat six eggs with two tablespoons crème fraîche, two tablespoons cream, a quarter cup freshly grated Parmesan and a pinch of salt. Heat two tablespoons butter in a sauté pan over medium heat, add egg mix and soft-scramble. Spoon eggs over toasted baguette slices. Lay a sea urchin “tongue” on each; sprinkle with sea salt and minced chives.