Ahhhh, sea urchin gonads…..
Indeed, one of my favorite foods. But it’s not always been the case.
I had to learn to control the gag reflex, learn to love it, learn to appreciate the finer nuances of a flavor remarkably reminiscent of the ocean floor at low tide.
No easy feat.
Perhaps my first experience with uni would have been much different had I not chosen to try it in a land-locked Colorado sushi house. In retrospect, the fact that it was in no way fresh probably explains why it took all of my willpower not to vomit at the table the minute it hit my mouth.
I had never used saki for mouthwash before that moment.
And I’m not sure what disturbed me the most – that it looked like an orange tongue neatly wrapped in nori paper, that it smelled like dirty socks, or that it had the texture, color and consistency of butterscotch pudding.
As you may well know, in Japanese culture you are to eat each piece of sushi in one bite. It’s considered rude, and an insult to your over-trained chef, to bite a piece in half (and yes, I have been reprimanded by sushi chefs for doing exactly that).
Keep that in mind when you imagine popping a serving of uni into your mouth.
Of all the sushi pieces you can order, uni is one of the largest – approximately the size of a ballerina’s fist.That’s a whole helluva alotta low tide wandering around your mouth with nowhere to go except down… or out.
After such a traumatic first experience with sea urchin sushi, I was more than a little hesitant to repeat the experience.
But I like a good challenge and I needed to understand why my husband thought it was one of the most amazing foods in the universe.
So I tried again. This time, in close proximity to an ocean… and a bathroom.
Ahhhh, delight! What a difference freshness makes!
Although it still looked like a pile of disturbing little cat tongues, still smelled like dirty socks, and still tasted like low tide, I could begin to see what all the fuss was about. It’s impossible to deny or ignore a flavor so strong it bitch slaps you upside the head the second it enters your mouth. Melty, buttery, fishy goodness…
By far the best uni I have ever tasted is straight up on the half shell, killed and cracked open literally seconds before presented at the table. No need for rice, no need for nori paper, no need for soy sauce or wasabi or a chaser of saki. Simple, pure, straight-out-of-the-ocean flavor.
Although sea urchin is in no way appropriate for the noob sushi aficionado or for the faint of stomach, it is truly one of the better options at a quality sushi restaurant.
Note: I said “quality” sushi restaurant.
Because the last thing you need is stale, rotting ocean floor swimming in your mouth.
Take it from me.