Friday, April 2, 2010

Sea Urchin with Madeira, Cream & Pasta

The Washington Post’s Tom Sietsema calls sea urchin "the foie gras of the ocean". I agree with him, but it is also so much more. I once got a date to eat urchin with me when he did not want to get near the “vile stuff” by telling him it was achingly voluptuous and its taste filled your mouth with the pure soul of the ocean.

I wasn’t making that up.

Purple Sea Urchin, SMBayKeeper

The name urchin is an old name for the round spiny hedgehogs that sea urchins resemble and is used in many cultures (riccio in Italian, erizo in spanish) to describe the bristly Echinoderm.

Hedgehog in the palm of a hand, defines cute

Sea otters feed on sea urchins.

They are found in the North Atlantic and on the West Coast of America as well. In Maine, sea urchins are impolitely known as whores' eggs. In the Orkney Islands of Scotland (home of night-less summers and ‘simmer dim’) urchin was once used instead of butter. *
Julia Moskin of the NYT’s tells us “Sea urchins evoke the flavor of caviar, the trembly texture of panna cotta and the briny but bracing strangeness that comes with eating live oysters.”

Sea Urchin

“They are one of the few remaining delicacies that must be harvested from the wild and cannot, for most purposes, be frozen. They are hand-cut by professional scuba divers — or, in some parts of Korea, by women who train from childhood to hold their breath and dive in cold water. These haenyo, or sea women, dive as deep as 50 feet with no gear other than a mask and a knife, gathering sea urchins, abalone, seaweed and conch. (Women are better able to tolerate cold water, and it became traditional for them to support their families by selling their catch.)"

“An aphrodisiac in Japan for thousands of years, sea urchin, or uni, as the Japanese call it, is not the roe. It is the gonads of this hermaphrodite sea creature that are scooped out of the urchin’s spiny shell in five custard-like, golden sections.
From a nutritional standpoint, sea urchin is one of the most prominent culinary sources of anandamide, a cannabinoid neurotransmitter. Does this mean that eating uni will produce a similar effect to ingesting marijuana? Probably not, but it is possible that uni activates the dopamine system in the brain, humans’ built in “reward circuit” reports Eat Something Sexy
I really felt validated when I read that. The sublime taste and texture of urchin always puts me in the mood for romance!

Eric Ripert at Bernadin has a great recipe for a sea urchin pasta sauce that Robin at Caviar and Codfish blogged about. The recipe was in Eric Ripert's book On the Line. Did I mention I love Eric Ripert?I remember particularly a soup at Bernadin with hot and cold urchin… I nearly passed out from pleasure. Eric Ripert is a genius.

I just had to try that pasta and it was delicious… just not as delicious as it could be because my urchin wasn’t as good as it could be… a little old, I think. Claudia at CookEatFret raved about Catalina Offshore Products So I gave them a call and was not disappointed. They have some of the best urchin I have ever seen in the US or Japan. It is fresh and firm and full of that briny sensual quality that I have loved when I’ve had it at great restaurants. The stuff I had a few weeks ago was a pale ghost compared to this (and it arrives the next day after you order it!).

Sea Urchin Pasta

I loved Ripert’s pasta recipe but had an idea that I wanted to try. I made the sauce as the recipe dictated, but I took 4 of the urchin, chopped them roughly and soaked them for 2 hours in 2 T of madeira and tossed it in the sauce. It was heaven. This dish is pure seduction.

For the pasta, only the best would do so I made the The French Laundry Cookbook pasta recipe.

Sea Urchin Pasta based on an Eric Ripert Recipe
Serves 3-4
1/2 cup sea urchin ( I ordered the Golden)
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened (or 1/3 c rich heavy cream + 2T butter)
1 tablespoon water (skip the water if you use the cream)
Fine sea salt
Espelette pepper powder
The Pasta
8 ounces fresh linguine, 4 oz dry
To Finish
1-1/2 teaspoons thinly sliced chives
1 T chervil leaves
1 tablespoon freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Fine sea salt and freshly ground white pepper
1/2 lemon
4 pieces of urchin steeped in 2 T Madeira ( Boston Bual - but I used a little 1937 Verdelho)
The Garnish
1 ounce caviar (I used golden whitefish he used Iranian osetra)
For the sea urchin sauce, puree the sea urchin roe in a blender. Pass it through a fine-mesh sieve, and return to the blender. Blend the puree with the softened butter or cream.
To finish the sauce, bring the water to a boil in a small saucepan. Gradually whisk in the sea urchin butter, about 1 tablespoon at a time(skip the water if you are using cream-just heat the sauce, do not boil). Season with salt and Espelette pepper and keep warm.
When ready to serve, cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente; drain.
Put the chives in a medium stainless steel bowl, add the warmed sauce and Parmesan cheese, and mix well. Season with salt and white pepper if necessary. Gently toss the pasta with the sauce and add the marinated urchin.
To serve, mound it in the center of a small bowl. Repeat three times. Squeeze the lemon juice over the pasta and place 1-1/2 teaspoons of the caviar on top of each mound of pasta. Serve immediately.

Based on Pasta Dough by Thomas Keller (this is more than enough… make it and use the rest for another great dish)

3/4 cup plus 2 T all-purpose flour
3 large egg yolks
1 large egg
1 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 tablespoon milk

Mound the flour on a board or other surface and create a well in the center, pushing the flour to all sides to make a ring with sides about 1 inch wide. Make sure that the well is wide enough to hold all the eggs without spilling.
Pour the egg yolks, egg, oil, and milk into the well. Use your fingers to break the eggs up. Still using your fingers, begin turning the eggs in a circular motion, keeping them within the well and not allowing them to spill over the sides. This circular motion allows the eggs to gradually pull in flour from the sides of the well; it is important that the flour not be incorporated too rapidly, or your dough will be lumpy. Bring the dough together with the palms of your hands and form it into a ball. It will look flaky but will hold together.
Knead the dough by pressing it, bit by bit, in a forward motion with the heels of your hands rather than folding it over on itself as you would with a bread dough. The dough should feel moist but not sticky. Let the dough rest for a few minutes while you clean the work surface.
Dust the clean work surface with a little flour. Knead the dough by pushing against it in a forward motion with the heels of your hands. Form the dough into a ball again and knead it again. Keep kneading in this forward motion until the dough becomes silky-smooth. The dough is ready when you can pull your finger through it and the dough wants to snap back into place. The kneading process can take anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes. Even if you think you are finished kneading, knead it for an extra ten minutes; you cannot overknead this dough. It is important to work the dough long enough to pass the pull test; otherwise, when it rests, it will collapse.
Double-wrap the dough in plastic wrap to ensure that it does not dry out. Let the dough rest for at least 30 minutes and up to 1 hour before rolling it through a pasta machine. The dough can be made a day ahead, wrapped and refrigerated; bring to room temperature before proceeding. Put it through your pasta machine to the last level and make linguine.

*As always, most facts come from Wikipedia unless otherwise noted, and for that we are eternally grateful. The few things I know myself I contribute humbly to the great knowledge pool of the blog world.


La Table De Nana said...

I've never tried them..I have a glass jar full of them in my dining room..and I love finding them on the beach..but have never eaten one..If you say it's good..I believe the recipes you have included and the quoted chefs..are resource too:)
Thank you~

Barbara said...

Brilliant, Deana! A perfect posting. I loved it!
My first introduction to sea urchins was when my middle son went to Outward Bound many years ago, in Maine. He was put on an island by himself with practically nothing to eat and had to survive for several days. (JFK Jr was on the same Outward Bound experience, although he had secret service agents guarding his island. And it was the first and only time I saw Logan, waiting for our sons return!) One of the things he had been told about was sea urchins and how to use them as food.
Then my daughter became a big sushi fan and introduced me to sea urchin at Nobu. Delicious!
Am forwarding your URL to her.

And thank you for the buying info..had no idea about this place. Aren't bloggers the best???

Happy Easter to you, my good friend, and to your family!

Deana Sidney said...

LaTabledeNana> I really want a hedgehog myself, aren't they just terminally cute! You can fit them in the palm of your hand. If you haven't tried the innards of the lovely shelled creatures... you are going to be so surprised.... ssoooo good!
Barbara> I loved your story... how cool is that to meet Jackie O! I stood behind her in an elevator. She was so narrow, I felt like a linebacker behind her with my shoulders. We both moved to get out of someone's way and she smiled... a lovely gracious woman.
You'll love Calalina.. they have so many great things. Blogger's are the best.

SavoringTime in the Kitchen said...

I've never had sea urchin either but your description of them and your pasta photos are wonderfully tempting! What a beautiful shell you used to plate it.

I love that adorable hedgehog!

Deana Sidney said...

Savoring Time in the Kitchen> I want one for a pet!!!! I love nacre in shells and pearls... the glow it gives off is really something.... I wanted to try it with a fish thing for a while... this was it's chance. It's an abalone shell, btw.

2 Stews said...

I also raise my hand that I've never had sea urchin. Living in New England I have no excuse! They look fabulous with the pasta.

Now, women are better suited to go in cold water??? Sounds like a man's story to me ;-)

Thanks, Deana.

Mimi said...

Such great information. I see them in the tide pools, but I have never eaten sea urchin before. Your discription makes them sound so wonderful.
Happy Easter

Sarah said...

I have heard that sea urchin is wonderful! I have never been to a restaurant with it on the menu. I will add that to my list of things to try!

Mary Bergfeld said...

What a lovely recipe and beautiful presentation. I've only once had sea urchin and it was beautifully prepared. It is not done in restaurants in my area, hence the "only once". I hope you have a wonderful weekend. Blessings...Mary

pam said...

Super impressive!

Deana Sidney said...

2Stews> A woman wrote the article! It makes sense though, Diane...women are tougher! You should try that urchin... it's some delectable eating!
Mimi> if you see them.. eat them... they are so good.
All our FIngers> I think you will like them Sarah... they are all over the West Coast...and you have an adventurous palate
Mary> Thanks, now you can order them online for a great treat... so good
Pam> thanks pam... I learned stuff I didn't know with this one.

Linda said...

Deana...this looks like such a sensual, elegant, dish...beautiful!
I can almost taste it!
Have a happy easter!

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

Deana, that is a most divine dish! And I love sea urchin too! I love your comment to your date-perhaps it was the properites of sea urchin that did the talking? :P I hope you're having a wonderful Easter!

Victoria said...

Hi! thanks for your comment on my blog! I've never had sea urchin before,i don't even know where i would find them in my little town!! can't wait to read the rest of your posts! :)

Faith said...

That dish is gorgeous and it absolutely looks like pure seduction! As always, your presentation is stunning!

Deana Sidney said...

Linda> It really is a sexy should give it a whirl!
Lorraine> I should have known you love urchin... such a dreamy texture and flavor!
Victoria> I bet you can get them on-line in Britain too... they grow all along your shores! Glad we exchanged visits!
Faith> Thanks so much... I loved the colors...and as I said before, I am a sucker for nacre!

tasteofbeirut said...

When I think that I could have had sea urchins a thousand times growing up and did not! They used to fish them and offer them to people right at the beach club we used to go to!
OK so now I am definitely on a quest to find them and try them!

pierre said...

Hi there
I defintely need to take my pasta machine out of the cupboard!! Pierre de Paris

Ju (The Little Teochew) said...

Deana, I had a similar pasta dish in a Japanese-pasta cafe, and it was so delicious! So, I know how fantastic your dish must taste. As always, you have the most charming presentation. Pasta in a shell ... how about that?!

Castles Crowns and Cottages said...

Good morning Deana! WOW! I would have never thought of eating this....but I do love sea food and I don't doubt is it just delicious!!!! Thank you for coming to my dream post...that white queen castle is about 30 minutes north I believe, of Paris! So, if you ever go out there, please visit that castle. It is in the last scene of the movie, Funny Face with Fred Astaire and Audrey Hepburn.


Tasty Trix said...

This was a really interesting read for me. I don't know why but Ive always been a bit squeamish about urchin, but if anyone can convince me to give it a go, I think it's you!

Deana Sidney said...

Taste of Beirut>I was a little suspicious the first time... but once I bit into them.. oh my!
Pierre>Pasta making is so soothing... put on some tunes and zone out!
Ju> just a sucker for shells... it tastes amazing and really easy if you use store bought pasta!
Castles Crowns> I knew I recognized that castle! As a sensualist... you will love it!
Trix> You go girl.. it's very sexy food!

COLARGOL said...

I love them ! comme tes photos sont jolies, c'est vraiment superbe et très tentant, bravo et merci pour ce très joli partage

Anonymous said...

Great tempting page for this underrated delicacy.

Just for the record, while you are correct to say that you don't eat the roe (eggs) but the whole gonad, sea urchins definitely aren't hermaphrodites. There are little boy sea urchins and little girls sea urchins and I've been studying what happens when they "get together" for about 6 years now! But that's another story.

short evening dresses said...

Oh! It's really good! Thank you!