We sea urchin-lovers are a tight-knit bunch. I was sitting on my own at the bar at Marea a couple weeks ago, hunched over a bowl of the amazing sea urchin and crab spaghetti, lost somewhere in its sweet and briny depths when the bartender came up to me and whispered in conspiratorial tones, "I'm telling you this because we're the same, you and me: You know, some people come here and order that dish without the sea urchin. I just shake my head and think to myself, 'what's the point'?"
I couldn't agree more.
Uni, the bright orange, tongue-shaped roe that come packed five-to-a-shell in the spine covered sea urchins that live off rocky coasts around the world are as much of a culinary divider as, say, tofu or blue cheese. As an urchin-lover, I can never quite trust an urchin-hater. Don't get me wrong—some of my best friends are uni-haters, and who am I to say who's right and who's wrong? But I keep my eye on them, particularly around menus.
Salty and briny with a metallic twang and more than a hint of iodine, it's (along with oysters) the most ocean-evocative food in the world, and as a seafood lover and lifelong coastal resident, I'm often in the mood to have the ocean evoked to me.
I'm a purist when it comes to most foods, and uni is no exception. Give me a bamboo tray layered with plump, bright orange tongues of sea urchin and I can pop them back one after the other, pressing them against the roof of my mouth with my tongue to feel them give way into custard-like creaminess, with nothing but a drop of soy sauce or perhaps a grating of fresh wasabi to season them.
Here are seven of my favorite ways to get sea urchin in New York. Some are simple, some are more complex, all are delicious.
Click through the slideshow above, or jump straight to an individual slide:
- Spaghetti with Crab, Sea Urchin, and Basil at Marea »
- Sea Urchin and Crab Tartine at Boulud Sud »
- The Uni Porridge at Neta »
- Oyster Pan Roast at The John Dory Oyster Bar »
- The Uni Tempura at Shabu Shabu 70 »
- The Uni Panino at El Quinto Pino »
- Ikura and Uni Set at Robataya »
About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.