This week we’ve been lucky enough to get our paws on a fresh catch of sea urchins from the cool waters of Iceland. They may look like chestnut burrs lost in the briny deep, but sea urchins are both extremely tasty and ecologically intriguing. The name ‘urchin’ comes from the old English word for ‘hedgehog’ – literally the hedgehogs of the sea!
When we talk about eating them, it’s actually their ‘coral’ we seek – a soft, orange clutch of roe hidden behind a thorny exterior. After our official taste test (very important at Fish Palace), I thought they tasted just like the sea. They were pleasantly salty without leaving you gasping for water; quite the melt-in-the-mouth experience.
Urchins are great for flavouring omelettes, scrambled eggs, mayonnaise, béchamel sauce and soufflé. In Chilean cuisine it’s served raw with lemon, onion and olive oil, while in Japan the coral is known as uni, served raw in sashimi or sushi with soy sauce and wasabi.
The urchins we have at The Fish Society are Strongylocentrotus droebachiensis, the species eaten by the Alaska Native population around Kodiak Island. Urchins play an important role in marine ecology, but they can cause havoc if allowed to bloom too much without predation. Luckily, they are the favourite food of Enhydra lutris – the humble sea otter! Since re-entering the coastline of British Columbia, sea otters have drastically improved ecosystem health around the shore.