MacPhail – week 02

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As a change from my planned extension of last week’s article, I’m taking a tack off piste to extol the virtues of a culinary delight I enjoyed for the first time at the weekend.  It was an experience I had to brace myself for as it was not in the usual range of items I would voluntarily swallow.

The humble sea urchin is an ocean creature that’s been familiar to me all my life but not until last weekend did I ever consider eating any part of one!

We had to do some online research to make sure we were eating the right bits and it did not whet my appetite at all to read that the parts to be consumed were in fact the gonads of this poor creature!

However, unlike the immediate image conjured by my immature mind and the common slang use of the word ‘gonads’, in an anatomical sense this just means any reproductive organ and therefore like the roe, melt, or coral of many fish or shellfish which we eat regularly, such as scallop, cod or herring.  What was to be eaten were thankfully not akin to those of land living mammals and were much more palatable than what immediately came to mind when reading the description!

I am generally not keen on eating fish or shellfish raw except for oysters and occasionally scallops if they are just out the sea, but according to all the online sources we looked at this was how best to consume the sea urchin.  This one had come out the sea only a few hours before and caught in the clear clean waters south of the Gunna Sound, so at least we knew it was fresh and from a good home!

After having chopped the spiky shelled beast in two, we carefully found and extracted all the right bits and placed them on a plate ready for eating. The light yellow, slightly slimy mush did not look attractive and at this stage I almost certainly would have chickened out had it not been for my much more gastronomically adventurous wife whose idea it had been to take the sea urchin home to try it when my brother pulled it out one of his creels to show her.

Simultaneously we both took a spoon and the taste was a total surprise! As expected it was slightly salty but coupled with that sea-like effect was a deep sweetness that made it almost fruity. It was like eating a combination of sweet pear, cream and oyster together with a surprisingly satisfying and pleasant overall effect. The rest was soon eaten and very much savoured.

We were happy to move on to the much more familiar main course of crab claws and lobster after that, also taken home from the same very enjoyable short trip out.

While researching how to prepare the sea urchin, I read that it was a New Year tradition in Japan to exchange them as gifts as part of the festive celebrations and that made the eating of them at the start of the year all the more fitting.

Bliadhna Mhath Ur Iapanach dhuibh uile!