Fresh sea urchin (uni) is a delicious and unique delicacy. Although some people consider it an acquired taste, enthusiasts love uni precisely for its distinct qualities. It entices with the fresh scent of ocean water, a creamy, custard-like texture that melts in your mouth, and a slightly salty, slightly sweet, buttery flavor that’s pure umami.
What Exactly Is Uni?
Uni is the edible part of a sea urchin, a small, spiny, spherical echinoderm related to starfish and sea cucumbers. Uni is commonly referred to as roe (eggs), but the term is a misnomer. Uni is actually the sex organs (gonads) of the urchin!
How To Best Enjoy Uni
In order to experience the flavor of the sea in its purest form, uni is typically served raw.
As sashimi, uni is often accented with a spritz of lemon or lime juice; a sprinkle of salt; a drizzle of soy sauce or ponzu; or even a dash of hot sauce. As sushi, it is commonly served as nigiri with a touch of wasabi between the uni and the rice.
You can also place one or two pieces of raw uni atop a variety of dishes. From poke and chirashi bowls, to egg dishes like scrambled eggs and chawanmushi (steamed egg custard), uni is a surefire way to create a wow factor.
Ever had an oyster shooter? How about a sea urchin shooter? This is another great way to prepare raw uni. Simply place a piece of uni into a shot glass, followed by some finely chopped green onion, a bit of tobiko or masago, a splash of ponzu, and pinch of wasabi. Top with sake or ginger beer, and kanpai (cheers)!
Alternative Ways To Prepare Fresh Sea Urchin
If the thought of eating raw uni makes you squeamish, consider trying it in a cooked dish. Incorporated into pasta, uni provides a creamy, velvety mouthfeel that’s unlike anything else. On menus or in recipe searches, look to the Southern Italian classic, Spaghetti ai Ricci di Mare (Spaghetti with Sea Urchin), or more modern takes like Uni Carbonara or Serious Eats’ Creamy Sea Urchin Pasta, which combines fresh sea urchin with Mexican crema and Calabrian chile.
We’ve also seen uni stirred into plain noodles; incorporated into soups, like sea urchin bisque; combined with butter and slathered across a toasted piece of rustic bread; and turned into ice cream. Yes, ice cream!
When it comes to all the ways to prepare uni, the world is your oyster!