Growing up, Jenice Yu was no stranger to eating uni – or sea urchin as it’s more commonly known in these parts – but her experience was far from the norm.

The daughter of seafood exporters (her family runs Richmond-based Grand Hale Marine Products), she watched B.C.’s ocean bounty head overseas where it fetched top dollar while local residents seemed unaware of the delicacies found right at their feet. Now a fishmonger herself as proprietor of Burnaby-based Fresh Ideas Start Here, Yu is on a mission to demystify the spikey specimen that’s local, sustainable and Ocean Wise recommended.

Jenice is a pro at cracking open these spiked specimens, but you can also buy a tamer version at her shop.

Jenice is a pro at cracking open these spiked specimens, but you don’t have to brave this feat to experiment with uni at home.

 

While many of us might never think of sea urchin as something edible, it’s been slowly entering the mainstream as an exotic ingredient served in sushi dishes. That’s a step in the right direction, says Yu, but she’s aiming to expose uni to a broader market.

“Japanese cuisine does a good job promoting sea urchin,” she says, “but it’s not encouraging people to eat in a cooked form. So people who aren’t into raw food tend to stay away.”

Well there’s that, and then there’s the fact that the urchin’s rather intimidating exterior presents a challenge to your average home cook. The adventurous among us can watch Yu give a tutorial on cracking open one of these creatures to reveal the bright yellow roe inside, but she also sells urchin cleaned, dried and naturally processed in trays for those looking for an easier introduction. Uni adds a rich, creamy sea-like flavor to curries, pastas and custards without tasting overly fishy, and it’s a good source of protein, omega 3s and vitamin B12. Yu also sells it smoked which, she says, is sometimes a better way for people who aren’t overly jazzed on seafood to enjoy it.

Meanwhile, with salmon returns often unpredictable, Yu is aiming for uni to become a more common alternative for seafood lovers. Local red urchin is diver caught near Prince Rupert with minimal disruption to the seabed and harvesting these abundant animals helps reduce pressure on the kelp forests where they feed.

Interested in uni? Try Yu’s simple recipe below or visit her website for more sustainable seafood ideas.

Sea Urchin Pasta with Uni Miso Butter

Ingredients

Uni in its less intimidating form can add great flavour to familiar favourites.

Uni in its less intimidating form can add an interesting twist to familiar foods.

  • 300g pasta
  • 1 tray fresh uni
  • 2 tablespoons butter, room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon miso
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 1/4 cup cream
  • 1 egg (optional)
  • Togarashi
  • Crushed nori
  • Salt

Directions

  1. Cook pasta in boiling salted water according to package directions.
  2. Combine butter, olive oil, miso, and 3/4 tray of uni in a bowl. Mash to combine. Stir in the crushed garlic and cream; add an egg if you prefer your sauce to be thicker. Sprinkle in togarashi to taste.
  3. When the pasta is al dente, drain quickly and return to the pot. Add the uni butter mixture and toss to incorporate with the warm pasta. Gently stir pasta and sauce together for 3 minutes over low heat.
  4. Portion the pasta onto two plates. Sprinkle with crushed nori and top it with the remaining whole sea urchin roe.

Overfishing is the single biggest threat our oceans face today. With more than 650 partners across Canada, Ocean Wise makes it easy for consumers to make sustainable seafood choices that ensure the health of our oceans for generations to come. The Ocean Wise symbol next to a seafood item is the Vancouver Aquarium’s assurance of an ocean-friendly seafood choice. www.oceanwise.ca

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