Sea urchin spaghetti has always been a popular item in Japan, normally served in quasi-Italian restaurants or cafes (along with Mentaiko spaghetti, a kind or smelt roe). I’ve often raved repeatedly about Blue Marlin restaurant in LA which serves amazing uni (sea urchin in Japanese) spaghetti, with a sauce just creamy enough to coat the pasta, and topped with a generous amount of dried nori. It’s been around for quite a while, and I never visit LA without making a stop for my favorite dish on Sawtelle Blvd.
Sydney seems to be catching up with this new seafood trend, as I noticeably received a lot less “ewww” from fellow Aussies when I talk about uni. Coming from a time when most Australians found the concept of raw fish and dried seaweed revolting, their willingness to try new things have dramatically increased.
”I’ve sold more sea urchin in the past 12 months than I have in the past four years,” says Wayne Hulme from Christie’s Seafood.
Fresh high quality sea urchin flesh is delicate and just firm enough to hold itself together, and just like pudding, it quickly melts in your mouth. Unfortunately, the taste is initially funky and reminiscent of pungent seawater, and that’s when the unadventurous start to gag. However, just like smoking your first cigarette, after a few more puffs, you start to acquire the taste. Sea urchin flesh is delicious: subtle, sweet, creamy, and sea-salty bitter rather than fishy – If an oyster made love to custard.
You can buy fresh washed urchin roe in pre-packaged trays from the fish markets.
500g dry spaghettini
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, more for drizzling
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon crushed red chili flakes
1 punnet grape tomatoes, halved, ripe and room temperature
Sea salt & black pepper
1 tray of sea urchin
I packet of Muji urchin cream pasta sauce
Shredded dried nori (also available in most Asian grocery stores) for garnish
1. Bring a medium pot of water to a boil over high heat. Meanwhile, in a skillet large enough to hold pasta later on, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic, reduce heat to low, and tip the skillet to submerge the garlic in olive oil, brown it on all sides so it flavors the oil.
2. Raise heat under skillet to medium, add chili flakes and simmer for around a minute. Add tomatoes, face down, cook until just until wilted and stir gently.
3. When water boils, add a couple of tablespoons of salt and cook pasta according to packet instructions, minus 2 minutes. Stir well and bring back to boil. When pasta is cooked through but still firm, drain, reserving 1 cup cooking water (this water contains starch and is useful later for the sauce)
4. Turn heat under skillet to low. Add pasta sauce (optional: just replace with butter otherwise). Add about 3/4 of the tray of sea urchin to skillet with a sprinkle of salt and a splash of pasta cooking water to your favored consistency. I like it quite thick and creamy. Add pasta to skillet and toss thoroughly but gently over low heat, adding pasta cooking water and more oil to taste if mixture is dry. Don’t forget to season!
Serve hot, decorating each serving with remaining sea urchin and top with dried shredded seaweed.
The sweetness of the grape tomatoes compliments beautifully with the flavor of the urchin roe.