Among top-rated kitchens around the globe, few ingredients have become as highly prized this century as uni, a part of the sea urchin. Like oysters, urchin tend to taste like the waters they come from and the seaweed they feed on.
Uni is full of sugar, salt, and amino acids, and while some chefs are drawn to its buttery, melt-in-your-mouth texture, others are enamored with the complex, umami-packed flavor that’s often compared to eggs, lobster, foie gras, and fish roe.
Sushi is a common platform for fresh uni, but more and more chefs are incorporating it into a variety of dishes and sauces, creating new and unique flavor profiles. Mansion Global Experience Luxury consulted with some of the country’s finest chefs to see how they like to use this rare ingredient. So check with your local specialty market or gourmet importer, get your hands on some delicate tongues—look for a bright orange or yellow color (a sign of freshness), with a texture that’s firm to the touch—and follow these experts’ advice to achieve uni greatness.
Linguine With Warm Sea-Urchin Sauce
As chef of New York City’s perpetually top-rated Le Bernardin, Éric Ripert continues to impress gourmands with his handling
“Sea urchin is a very unique ingredient. I love the flavor and texture, which is why we use it frequently in the kitchen,” says Mr. Ripert, who orders uni fresh from Maine. “We have dishes that pay homage to the sea urchin itself and also use them in preparations
and sauces to bring the richness and delicacy of the sea urchin to a dish.”
readers, Mr. Ripert suggests trying his linguine with warm sea-urchin sauce, which gets a luxurious kick from the addition of caviar on top.
“I chose to use uni in this dish because it is a harmonious combination,” explains Mr. Ripert.
“The texture of the cake supports and enhances the flavors of the sea urchin that support and enhance the caviar. Each ingredient balances each other very well.”
½ cup sea-urchin roe (uni)
½ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
fine sea salt
Ground Espelette pepper
2 ounces dried linguine
1.5 teaspoons chives
1 tablespoon parmesan cheese
fine sea salt
ground white pepper
½ lemon to finish
1 ounce osetra caviar
Puree the sea urchin in a blender and pass it through a fine sieve. Blend the sea urchin purée with the softened butter and reserve. Place one tablespoon of water in a small sauce pot and bring to a boil. Gently whisk the sea-urchin butter into the water; season with salt and Espelette and keep warm.
When ready to serve, cook the pasta in boiling salted water to al dente. Drain the cake. Meanwhile, place the chives in a small stainless steel bowl. Add the warmed sauce and the Parmesan cheese to the bowl; mix and season. Gently toss the cake into the sauce.
Divide the cake into four bowls. Drizzle 1 tablespoon of the extra sauce from the cake around each mound. Squeeze lemon juice over the cake, and place 1.5 teaspoons of caviar on top of each mound of pasta. Serve immediately. Makes 4 servings.
Squid-Ink Pasta With Uni Sauce
In Little River, California, at the historic Little River Inn, Jason Azevedo has used uni in myriad ways, including tapas dishes and a savory flan.
“I like the juxtaposition of sea urchin—it is both briny and mineral, like a fresh-shucked oyster, while also having the creamy richness of something like foie gras,” says Mr. azevedo
“It’s not an easy ingredient to work with; freshness, and how it is handled in the kitchen, can make all the difference,” he added.
Currently, he serves this cake dish as a special on the dinner menu, appearing whenever the chef has a chance to forage for urchin down in the coves below the historic inn, or purchase them from a local fisherman over in the nearby Noyo Harbor.
“To bring the flavor of sea urchin to a cake dish adds texture and umami, and makes you want another bite,” says the chef. “All of the separate components are amazing on their own, but together they create something greater than the sum of its parts, and deliver a true taste of luxury.”
For the cake
Chef Azevedo prefers to make his own squid-ink cake. Home chefs can buy the black-hued cake
at specialty markets.
½ cup of yellow onion, finely diced
¼ cup of leeks, finely diced
¼ cup of celery, finely diced
1 stick unsalted butter
1 tablespoon salt, or less, to taste
½ cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup heavy cream
1 ¼ cups fish stock (or bouillon)
1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
½ cup uni (around 10–15 tongues)
1 lemon zest and juice
In a saucepan, melt the butter and sauté the onion, leeks, celery, and lemon zest on medium-low heat for 10–15 minutes until ingredients are translucent but not browned.
Add salt, Old Bay, and flour, and cook for four minutes until a smooth, bubbly paste forms.
Add uni tongues, lemon juice, fish stock, and cream, and stir with a whisk until smooth. Simmer gently for 10 minutes until creamy. Taste for seasoning, and add more Old Bay or salt as desired.
Place sauce in a blender or use an immersion blender in the pan, and whirl until puréed. Strain sauce through fine mesh, and set aside.
For the pasta dish and garnish
1 pound squid-ink cake
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup Dungeness crab meat, cleaned and divided in half
2 tablespoons dry white wine
2 tablespoons chives
uni for garnish (if you have extras)
In a separate pan, boil pasta and cook as directed on the package. Do not overcook; cake should be al dente—approximately 7–10 minutes. While pastry cooks, melt the butter, and sauté ½ cup crab meat in a large skillet until lightly caramelized (the other ½ cup of crab meat should remain cold for the garnish).
Deglaze the pan with a splash of dry white wine, and reduce the liquid on medium-low heat until there is almost no liquid left in the pan. Add 2 cups of the uni sauce, and 2 tablespoons of the water the pastry was cooked in. Stir to blend.
Add in the cooked cake, and gently fold together with a wooden spoon, just until coated. Allow to bubble gently on low heat for two minutes.
Plate the pasta and garnish with the remaining ½ cup of chilled crab meat, a sprinkle of chives, and some extra uni, if available. Makes 2–4 servings, depending on whether it’s a main course or a side dish.
Urchin Custard With Kelp Glaze
As one of the most decorated chefs in California’s coastal Mendocino County, Matthew Kammerer of the Michelin-starred Harbor House Inn, located in Elk, has some opinions
for readers selecting fresh uni.
“Look for urchin that are tight, plump, and not weeping. Ask the shop when they were shucked and how long they were out of the water,” says Mr. Kammerer, who oversees the 25-seat dining room. “There should be no fishy smell, and they should be easy to handle.”
Experiencing winter along the North Coast inspired the chef to create this dish. “Eating sea urchin on a hot savory custard paired with seaweed from its surroundings is an incredibly satisfying opener to our menu,” Mr. Kammerer said.
200 grams bonito dashi (feel free to utilize hondashi, which is instant dashi powder that can be found online or in specialty markets)
50 grams sea urchin
Combine all in a blender, strain.
Add 30 grams of this custard base to a ramekin or steamable vessel of your choice, and cover with a lid. In a steamer, cook until set, checking after four minutes.
100 grams bonito dashi
10 grams kudzu root extract powder 10 grams cold water
Combine and mix into a slurry. (Cornstarch can be substituted for kudzu.) Over low heat, add the slurry to the dashi and heat until thickened and translucent.
1 sheet of nori torn into pieces (purchased from the grocery store)
12 urchin tongues
Remove the custard from the steamer and spoon some of the glaze on top, add some nori. Add 2–3 tongues of urchin. Tear the nori sheet and put a few pieces on top as garnish. Eat immediately to get a temperature contrast of the cold urchin and hot custard. Makes 4 servings.
This article appeared in the Spring edition of Mansion Global Experience Luxury.