Uni three ways

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Does your local farmer's market have this? UNI (Sea Urchin)
Probably not.
San Francisco has the most ridiculous farmer's markets. A wide range of bougey/yuppie, live-chicken-in-a-plastic-bag chinese yelling match, hippie-crunchy, hippie/hipster, and just plain cheap. Yes, I have seen better farmer's market (Sintra, Portugal), but come now: Have you ever seen such a wide variety of heirlooom produce? By the signs pinned to the stalls, you would think we were at a giant antique shop or swap meet.
We regard the Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday ritual like church.
Except instead of laying flowers, we buy them.
I am devout.
But today, I shall cease with this SF homage and direct your attention towards a market across the pond -- err, bay that is: The Marin Civic Center Farmer's Market. Here, we have the aforementioned patron mix, plus a sprinkling of Northern Marin honky tonk! And babies.
There is a grassier feel to this market, and I dare say I like it. Thai/dimsum/indian food stalls, giant fish buckets, planks of smoked salmon and sturgeon, bluegrass... all against the back drop a frank lloyd wright master piece (featured in Gattica).
(Sidenote: I am so cracked out from my day job that I accidentally wrote: "frank lloyd weber", as in "andrew lloyd weber", as in the Phantom of The Opera...)
The best part about the market is that it sells live sea urchin, begging to be shucked. If urchins could look plump (instead they are spiny), these ones would look ripe for the plucking. Inside the callous shells there is a brilliant web of veins, each strung with hundreds off orange micro-eggs.
If you have seen urchin, it was probably while eating sushi.
An interesting thing about sushi uni is that it has already been treated with a chemical (somebody told me it was albumin - yet I have no literature to back up these claims) that makes the tissue shrink back on itself. This is to make the appearance more manageable and pretty.
I am just fine with mine sans shrink. This idea is a bit vile to me. Yuck.
AHH Yes, fresh out of the shell.
The day at the farmer's market, my friend Jenny, goutess extrordinaire, and I bought a 1-lb urchin and had it taken down on the spot. Paired with some BBQ-ed oysters and our meal was complete.
For those of you who haven't tasted this decadent porcupine of the sea, I will try and describe what it tastes like:
- Its texture very light, a frothy custard
- It tastes like the sea + some sort of libation
- It is full bodied in flavor, but not in the garlic way. It doesn't shove you, as a bully would after stealing your tetherball. It is more like that oddity of a human being who surprises in conversation.
- When you eat it, it makes your muscles relax. You are at ease.
- It smells pure. It is like when you go swimming in the ocean and you have a light scent in your hair.
- It is silent
You eat it plain, because it is that pure. Although let it be known, its heaviness will creep up on you and leave you reclined. With leftovers to spare, I wondered what I could craft that would compliment but never overshadow the delicate yet potent flavor.
When I posed the question to Jenny, she grunted the answer from the depths of her belly: "Toast" followed closely by "Steamed egg". Her mouth was still full of uni.
So the toast was simple enough. I have not included a recipe because it is rather intuitive; however, it can not be overlooked. It is spectacular juxtaposed with a crusty/chewy slice of bread.
The dashi steamed egg took some more research. I also settled upon an uni cream linguine with cauliflower/panko crumbs. Swoon...
I highly recommend these pieces. They both accentuate the texture of urchin. The steamed egg provides a seamless detante of tastes and textures. The pasta gets coated in pureed uni and receives a crumb from the bread crumbs.
Recipes to come! But for now, only temptaion: