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Monday, January 9, 2012

sea urchins!

No recipe, what a pain but not in the neck! Instead, a little story about one of my favourite things just in case you come across them. Not that I would recommend handling them, leave that to the experts but eating them is a whole different ball game!

Sea urchins have long been regarded as an effective remedy for neck ache due to their high iodine and mineral salt content and are said to give a boost to virility. In ancient times gourmets celebrated their fine flavour and always served them alongside oysters at feasts and banquets.

I'm happy to say I'm not a sea urchin gatherer but I have enjoyed their multi coloured beauty from far above the ocean floor. Sea urchins are exceptionally delicate creatures, concealing in their spiny shell a soft centre and a very much sought after coral.

Scissors are used to open the mouth of the sea urchin to sever the connective tissue then tweezers are needed to open up a hole large enough to remove the delicate coral with a teaspoon. This coral is the reproductive glands and a true delicacy. Connoisseurs consume their catch raw with a little lemon, straight from the sea. The animal robed of its element goes off quickly but stored in ice they have a longer shelf life.

Sea urchin paté is made from sea urchin flesh, hake and butter and is used to enrich sauces, soups and scrambled eggs. More often than not sea urchin flesh is gently cooked, added to a béchamel sauce and served in the shell, au gratin, as in the above photograph.

Sea urchins are harvested in many places in the world and I am sure there are many ways to serve them that I don't know about nor have the time to research. My own experience comes from Spain, where I took this photo and where the true flavour of the sea is never more evident, than it is here, in every dish.

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