It’s an easy thing to do. We’ve all been there, I know. But I was definitely surprised when I left the house to pick up half a metre of muslin, and came back with three sea urchin instead. Funky looking fellas, but totally useless as a medium for straining.
What possessed me to buy entirely the wrong thing?
Well, (a) they were there, in the window of my local fishmonger, staring at me, and (b), why not? I think I had been on the verge of cheese on toast for one that eve. But in one rash/inspired moment, turned my eats on their head.
What, I hear you say, the chuff do you do with a sea urchin?
The first thing to do is to open them up and quickly clean the roe in fresh cold water. This is a much simpler process than you might imagine. Just use a decent pair of scissors to snip into the mouth of the urchin (the bit that looks like a bum hole), then cut back up towards you, then round in a circle. Carefully spoon out the roe. Drop briefly in cold water and remove fairly instantly. If that makes no sense, follow this guide (using scissors instead of a fork).
The second, third, fourth and probably fifth thing to do, is to enjoy the roe raw, cold and fresh. They’re buttery, and have that near indescribable rock pool salty fresh ‘essence of the sea’ to them. Try the little orange tongues unadorned at first. You could then drop a squeeze of lemon on. But I like to dip them in light soy sauce.
The sixth thing, if you’ve got urchin left, is to make yourself a simple bowl of pasta. Linguine is the traditional thing, but spaghetti will do.
Cook the pasta with a few slices of garlic. Whilst that’s moving towards al dente, prepare any remaining urchin you have and place them in a large bowl with lots of olive oil, more salt, pepper, a spoonful of finely diced shallot and a good squeeze of lemon juice. Turn your eyes away, Italians, but I also peeled a few lengths of courgette, cut those peels in half lengthways, and then placed them in the bowl with the urchins. A little extra colour and texture.
Drain the pasta, add it to the bowl and toss well. The residual heat of the pasta softens the courgette and also pulls flavour from the urchin roe.
Maaaaan, it’s a mighty fine dish. I added another glug of oil, some more black pepper and chopped parsley. But secretly wished for a healthy grating of bottarga. Truly la bella vita.