Urchins

Oursins

Or : Maxence the Fearless Eater

Maxence loves sushi. It is hard for him to decide which type is his favorite (I know, I asked), but it could very well be Uni, sea urchin sushi, which is somewhat hard to find in France. So when we spotted sea urchins at the rue Lepic fish market (which we don’t like very much apart from the good shellfish selection : bad service and overpriced fish) we bought five.

Back home, sitting on one of our bar stools, he set out to eat them. Thankfully, they are sold with their spikes all hammered down into submission, so he could handle them without quite losing his fingers to the cause. Cutting the tops off the shells with a knife (I was watching my darling little knife take this abuse, my heart tightening), he uncovered the coral colored flesh, laid out in the shape of a star inside the shell. It was pretty messy, as the urchins were leaking a kind of ink through the valve-like mouth they have underneath, and there was dark stuff inside the shells too, that Maxence had to be careful not to spoon out with the flesh.

He thoroughly enjoyed the experience : for the taste, but also for the kick he got out of eating something so alien. It did remind him of Uni, but it was still quite different. I was ever so slightly grossed out (can you tell?) and almost didn’t try it, until I thought I just couldn’t pass it up – what would my blog readers think? :) The taste is very deep and complex, unlike anything I have ever experienced : it lingers in your mouth and nose in a powerful way, and tastes almost perfumey, a bit like orange flower water or rose water. Utterly incredible.

  • http://ilforno.typepad.com/il_forno/ Alberto

    Clotilde,

    after reading the post I doubt you’ll want to eat sea urchin again ;-) but just in case a tip for opening/cleaning them.
    Scissors are great to cut them open, it also avoids damaging darling knives (AARGHH!!).
    mmhh…sea urchin roe on bread with olive oil and a dash of lemon… now I’m hungry!

  • http://www.mum-mum.info Wena

    the japanese are fearless but seafood lovers. i’ve never tried this type of sushi before.

    should tell maxence to be careful though. a lot of ppl here in asia contracted hepatitis from eating clams and other seashells. not sure whether it applies to urchins though.

  • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

    Alberto – Thanks for the tip! I think I will try it again next time he buys some, after a while, the taste will probably grow on me! And having it with toast/olive oil/lemon sounds really good!

    Wena – Ouch, hepatitis? I’ll look into that, see if urchins are safe!

  • http://www.oursinsetraviolis.com Nassim

    Comme disait ce fameux acteur français:”On ne devrait pas se fier aux apparences sinon on aurait jamais d’oursins”.

    Peut être suis je superficiel car je n’aime pas du tout!

  • http://www.sautewednesday.com Bruce

    It’s known as Uni in the U.S., sea urchin, that is. Most sushi bars don’t know how to prep and serve it though. The best comes from San Diego and is served at a tiny little sushi bar called Okina in San Francisco.
    Funny thing, I’ve always heard that the French like to harvest sea urchin and spread it on a baguette…guess not, eh?

  • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

    Bruce – it’s in the US that Maxence first discovered Uni sushi, served at the excellent restaurant Fuki Sushi in Palo Alto, CA! He did end up having the real thing in Tokyo this year… Even better!

    I’d never heard of sea urchin begin a typical French thing (even on baguette!) but maybe it’s a regional thing? I’ll have to find out…

  • Sylvie

    Yes, sea urchin is a “typical French thing”, but only in the south of France, where they can be found on the Mediteraneen coast. At leat, they used to be founnd… Nowadays they are scarce and expensive.

  • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

    Aaaah, once again, Maman to the rescue with the precious missing piece of information! Have you had it before? Did you like it?

  • Erin

    I am in general a fearless eater, and in love with Sushi. At our favorite Japanese restaurant in Seattle last winter I met my match in the sea urchin. I am sad to say I was defeated and no amount of sencha or ginger could help.

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