The sea urchin is a spiny spherical creature found in shallow seawater in and around reefs around the world. The edible "roe" (actually the organs producing the eggs, not the eggs themselves) ranges from pale yellow to bright orange color.
In Japan uni is a popular sushi item and quite a delicacy. It is sometimes accompanied by a raw quail egg. During the season in Italy sea urchin is harvested from tidal pools, cut open with a special scissorlike tool, and eaten immediately. It is also sometimes blended into risotto and used to top spaghetti.
Extremely fresh roe is mildly sweet and briny with a soft creamy texture. As time passes, the flavor deteriorates rapidly and can become bitter. Even more than most sushi, freshness has a huge effect on the flavor of urchin.
They are about the size of a fist, covered in porcupine-like spikes. Once opened, their "roe" is yellow or orange and surrounded by dark gray cartilage and fluids. Each sea urchin contains several "roe," which are marble-sized.
Selecting and Buying
Sea urchins tend to grow in cracks and spaces between rock. Pull them gently from where they live being careful to get stuck with the quills.
Preparation and Use
To prepare, turn upside down and use a knife or scissors to cut into the shell in slightly from the outer edge, continue cutting in a circle all the way around. Scoop out the center and all of the innards being careful not to damage the orange eggs sacs stuck to the inside of the shell.
Once cleaned, you can either gently scoop out the sacs for use in a variety of recipes, or squirt in a bit of lemon juice and then either eat plain or with bread.
Conserving and Storing
Live urchins with survive for several days if iced or refrigerated. Cleaned roe sacs can be stored refrigerated for several days, though they are best to eat right after removal.