Posted by Renee | Filed under Favorites
Roll back twenty years to 1989; my first encounter with the prickly sea creature known as sea urchin. I still remember the trepidation I felt as my sister’s boyfriend took it upon himself to order our sushi feed; tuna, salmon, mackerel, eel and uni. Uni? What is this uni? Does this come from the Ottawa Valley? I dare not think so! I still picture the sushi as it came to our table; there it was, an orange hued blob (the only way a fifteen year old could describe it!). The first taste surprised me; salty, slightly sweet and slimy. I also remember thinking that the flavour has a slightly funky aftertaste, one which I cannot describe in this story as I would not want to offend anyone! So, I pretty much gagged on my uni, spit it up and vowed to never, ever try this vile creature again!
Let’s fast track to 2007; I was then somewhat of a grown up (I am sure that some will beg to differ!) and had just been hired as Executive Chef of The Five Fishermen restaurant in Halifax. My new position had me excited and I was pumped about working with local ingredients that I had never worked with before. Enter Nick Budreski, my seafood guru and pal, and his magical box filled with goodies. Oysters, bay scallops and sea urchin? ‘You gotta be kidding me!’ I told him; as sea urchin was still fresh on my palate. He explained to me that these had been harvested only hours earlier, by he and his two brothers, Matt & Mike. ‘Come on’, he said, ‘just crack it open and try it’. As my staff looked on, I felt the need to be the leader that I was being paid to be. ‘OK.’ I grabbed my knife and a cloth and proceeded to crack open the prickly sucker. Once open, a bright orange roe spilled out of the shell along with many other goodies. The roe is the only edible part of this creature, and I scooped it out with my fingers. Once in my mouth I closed my eyes, swirled it around and got those old familiar tastes; salty, sweet, and yummy? That is right! What had I been missing all these years? This was awesome! I stuck my greedy fingers in for more and encountered more nirvana. As I continued to discover the urchin, I also tasted a familiar taste; rosewater. Rosewater you ask? Yup! I was now totally hooked. ‘Budreski!’ I shouted, ‘I need more of these spiny suckers ASAP!’ Needless to say, these bad boys have made their way onto my menus on many occasions over the years.
This past week I got thirty or so urchins for a tasting menu, which gave my staff a chance to learn about these lil’ guys. When handling these urchins remember to use a cloth as their spikes can get into your hands and cause major pain! You can crack them open with a sharp knife on the top (the side without the beak). As I mentioned before, the roe is the only edible part, and any other “stuff” is not to be ingested. I would say that 99% of the time, sea urchin is served raw, and to me, that is the best way! I have served the roe on oysters, on top of a chowder & all by itself on a crostini.