Grocery shopping without a list is a terrible idea, generally speaking. Without a list to guide us through the aisles and past the ice cream, we inevitably end up with items that are unhealthy or unnecessary. For me, buying groceries sans list is especially dumb, since I can take impulse buying in grocery stores to another level. Last week I went to Eataly without a list (the worst place to do this) and ended up with something bordering on ridiculous – whole sea urchins.
They looked so pretty and interesting, and were not terribly expensive. I couldn’t help myself. Only when I got home did I reckon with the fact that I didn’t have a plan for these sea urchins.
Sea urchin is briny and buttery at the same time and has a delicate texture. It can be used in the same ways as caviar or fish eggs – divine when left untouched, like with sushi, and transformative when integrated into pastas.
Another excellent use for sea urchin is in ceviche, which is fairly common in Peru and Mexico. Given that ceviche was already on the menu for Saturday lunch (as is customary in our house), I decided to try my hand at making a sea urchin ceviche.
The first nut to crack when dealing with whole sea urchin is, obviously, how to get the darn things that you can eat from inside the very hard, very poky exterior. The part of sea urchin that we eat are in fact the gonads, and they line the interior of the endoskeleton.
I have actually opened other sea urchins before (because I’m crazy) so feel fairly confident giving instructions for how to open them. It’s not as difficult as it appears, but does take some finesse and some force.
How to open a sea urchin
Depending on the spikiness of the sea urchin, you may need gloves to protect yourself. I used standard rubber kitchen cleaning gloves.
Rinse the whole sea urchin under cool water
This will remove any excess grit.
Remove the mouth of the sea urchin
Using a small knife, cut around the mouth at the bottom of the sea urchin. There will be a membrane that is usually easily penetrable. Pull the mouth out with your fingers and discard.
Open up the sea urchin to access the edible parts
Use kitchen shears to make a cut from the opening of the mouth to the widest part of the base. Depending on the size of the sea urchin this could be about 1/2 inch to 1 inch (1-3 centimeters) from the mouth opening. Continue cutting along that incision so that you cut a concentric circle around the mouth of the sea urchin.
Remove the edible parts
Pour out any liquid in the remaining “bowl” of the sea urchin so that you have better visibility. You should see the orange gonads. There are typically five and are arranged in a symmetrical 5-point star pattern. Gently slide a spoon between the endoskeleton and the gonads, removing them from the sides. Scoop out and set aside.
Rinse sea urchin parts
Pull off any remaining membranes if necessary. Gently rinse the orange sea urchin meat under cold water. Refrigerate until ready to use.
Sea urchin ceviche (ceviche de erizo)
difficulty difficult (if opening the sea urchin yourself)
cook time 30 min
Even when experimenting, it’s important to remember the basic principles of ceviche. At its core, ceviche has only 5 ingredients: fish, salt, red onion, pepper, and lime juice. Don’t go overboard with sweet or oily elements or you’ll smother the poor fish. Make sure there is an element of spice, crunch (which often comes from the onion), and acid. I used a sweeter, milder acid from sweet lemons, since I thought regular limes might be too harsh for this dish. You could also use Meyer lemons or key limes.
This recipe uses habanero pepper because the traditional Peruvian peppers are very difficult to find fresh. Just make sure the pepper is completely deseeded otherwise the spice level will overwhelm the delicate fish flavors.
LECHE DE TIGRE
¼ cup / 60 mililiters seafood broth
¼ cup / 60 mililiters juice from sweet lemons (about 2) or key limes
1 tbsp thinly sliced onions
2 sprigs cilantro
1 sliver habanero pepper
a pinch of salt
2 medium sea urchins
3-4 medium / ¼ lb / 125 grams scallops
1 ounce / 30 grams avocado. The avocado should just barley be ripe.
1 tsp minced cilantro
1 sliver habanero
1 tbsp thinly sliced onions
a pinch of salt
1 tsp micro greens or thinly sliced sorrel
- Combine seafood broth, half the lime juice, the sprigs of cilanto, and the sliver of habanero is a small pan or sauce pot. Heat until simmering and then remove from heat to cool. Remove habanero slice. Let sit for 10 minutes so that the flavors develop and the broth cools.
- Strain the broth using a fine mesh sieve. Add the remaining half of the lemon and refrigerate.
- Follow the directions above for obtaining the sea urchin. Refrigerate until ready to use. Alternatively, you can purchase fresh sea urchin if available (often found at Eataly in New York)
- Cut the scallops into small cubes, about ¼ inch (1 cm) wide. Refrigerate with the sea urchin. I like to freeze my scallops for about 20 minutes before to make them easier to cut.
- Cut the avocado into very small cubes, about half the size of the scallops. Set aside.
- Cut the habanero into very small pieces, about 1/4 the size of the avocado.
- Combine sea urchin, scallops, cilantro, onions, habanero, salt, and 1 tablespoon of the leche de tigre in a small metal bowl. The salt should be added to taste.
- Place in serving bowl and distribute avocado. Spoon another 2-3 tablespoons of leche de tigre around and on top of the ceviche. Top with microgreens.
Ceviche should be served immediately. It is a myth that the hallmark of ceviche is for the to “marinate” in lime juice in order to cook it. The citric acid does alter the proteins in the fish, giving the appearance of it having been lightly cooked. But prolonged soaking in lime or lemon juice will also overwhelm the flavors of the fish.