Sea Urchins

I went down to Ward’s Fish early yesterday morning expecting to come back with five small red mullet but instead found myself with a bag full of spiny sea urchins.

The plan had been that the red mullet be filleted and then roasted in the oven with some pine nuts and a smattering of olive oil. As they cooked I would have cooked some linguine which was then to be mixed with skinned tomatoes and basil leaves. The red mullet would then have been placed on top of each plate of linguini.

As it happened Ward’s didn’t have and red mullet so I bought a monkfish tail instead. I was then asked if I wanted some sea urchins. There were two of them sat on the ice. I hesitated but was a reassured that they were giving them away.

There then followed a story about how they had come by them collected at the same time as divers collected their fat scallops. They had been expecting a half dozen of the sea urchins but had been given a box of them.

As I hesitated further a Chinese lady stood next to me said that she would have four of them and she told me you could either have them raw or with fried rice. She was picking up a bag of salmon heads and I should have asked her what she was planning on doing with them.

So I said I would take five of the sea urchins – one each for those that were eating.

Back home I went through some books to try and find some clue as to what to do with them. The best I could come up with was Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s book of fish which gave them a brief mention without giving them a specific profile. He suggested that the best way to get into them was by using a special tool called a coupe oursin. 

Although I had a good look through the kitchen cupboards perhaps unsurprisingly I was able to locate a coupe oursin.  As a alternative Hugh suggested a tough pair of kitchen scissors inserted into the mouthparts and then used to cut away a hole big enough to get in.

This worked surprisingly well. Inside each shell there was a pool of dark brackish water, some folds of black gunk and five pale creamy tongues of ‘roe’. We later learnt that although these globes are described as roe they are in fact the gonads, or more particularly, the reproductive organ of the sea urchin.

I teased them out with a teaspoon and they were surprisingly good with a rich creamy flavour of the sea.

Five or six years ago when I went out to watch Tommy Arundel haul in his lobster pots most of them came out of the water with a couple of sea urchins attached. These were thrown back into the sea.

This summer I will see if he can pass a few over so we can try them fresh out of Dunmannus Bay.

After the sea urchins we had a dozen qual eggs and then the monkfish – cooked with honey and sherry vinegar together with buttery saffron flecked crusty rice.

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