They look like mean, inhospitable creatures, surrounded by spiny quills like some kind of underwater hedgehog. But once cracked open, sea urchins yield one of the great delicacies of the sea, pure ocean essence that is slightly rich on the tongue. You do not, in fact, eat sea urchin meat, but rather the gonads and eggs -- each one has five symmetrical sacs that cling to the insides of its shell.
Erin Lyall Angelini Osteria
While sea urchin is common on Asian menus -- particularly Japanese, where it's known as uni -- it's also a mainstay in Italian cooking, as the creatures are plentiful along the Puglian coast. The little tongue-shaped organs are often blended with olive oil, chicken stock or cream and tossed with hot pasta, yielding a dish that's pure seaside: salty, foamy, and complex, like a seawater carbonara.
Here in Los Angeles, they're making a splash on Italian menus around town (and, like oysters, they're considered freshest in months ending in -r, which makes them perfect for winter). Here are four of our favorites -- but call ahead to make sure they're available, as these dishes depend on a good supply of fresh urchin.More »