What's so gross about sea urchin? Even some of the most adventurous eaters I know will make the most horrific faces when the topic comes up.
I asked my husband who generally recoils when I suggest that we share a pair of nigiri at the sushi bar, and he offered that it's a textural thing. Some people say it resembles phlegm (or worse), and I heard one person characterize the briny bits as "little orange tongues" (although, let's face it: the truth of what uni is may actually be harder to stomach!). But a lot of these same people will tell me that the flavor doesn't bother them; in fact, they find it quite pleasant.
So when my BFF told me about a sea urchin pasta she makes for dinner parties, I found a way to sneak uni back into the palettes of the unsuspecting (just a word of caution to anyone who's invited to my house for dinner). This recipe is based upon Eric Ripert's On the Line which means that it is insanely decadent, topping a first course-size portion of sea urchin linguine with Iranian osetra caviar. My girlfriend uses ikura (salmon roe) which also provides a nice, salty punch to the velvety sauce at a much more reasonable price (my nearby Japanese market sells it for $2 per ounce versus $200 for the osetra). I managed to find an ounce of domestic Hackleback caviar for $50, and it was plenty for four servings. And my uni-shy husband? He licked his bowl clean. Read on for the recipe.
I'm catching up on a few weeks' worth of cooking, and realized I had some leftover pics from our week of hot pot (for which I've only managed to do one post so far). We tackled mala hot pot and a milder chanko nabe miso-aji, so next up was yosenabe, a Japanese seafood stew. I returned to one of my happy places, 99 Ranch, to pick up some spitting clams, shrimp, fish, and scallops, and there I realized that I'm still just a stranger in a strange land. My conversation with the guy behind the fish counter went something like this:
Me: Hi, I would like four large prawns.
Me: Yes, please.
Me: Yes, four.
Him: That's all?
Me: Yes, please.
Him: [laughs] Ok... [picks out exactly four prawns, hands them to me in a bag] Anything else?
Me: Yes, please. May I have six scallops?
You get the picture. Clearly, cooking for two is not a common occurrence at the Asian market. At Mollie Stone's, no one thinks twice when someone asks for one chicken thigh, skinned and deboned, or a ribeye steak, trimmed of excess fat. Here, among half of my people, I am met by giggles. But along the way I have learned that I'd get nowhere if I didn't ask a few silly questions or come across as the oddball. A few weeks ago, I attended a class on fruit-tree pruning in which I asked if watering my lemon tree once a week was enough. The room (including the instructor) broke out in uproarious laughter. Apparently, the answer is "No — at the bare minimum you should water it twice a week." Well, now I know, my lemons are far better off than before, and everyone gets a good chuckle. Back to the yosenabe, I'm not sure what I learned, per se, but I certainly wouldn't have ended up with this fantastic dinner had I not sucked it up and played the part of court jester. For the recipe, read on.
When dining out at fancier joints, I always have a dilemma: should I be socially proper and order a dainty half dozen oysters or give in to the devil on my shoulder and go for the full dozen? I know what I want to do, but I also know that 12 meaty mollusks on top of a full entree means an uncomfortably full belly by the end of the meal. So I tend to heed the angel and request the smaller serving (and then spend the rest of the night wishing I hadn't been so good).
So when my dad and I dreamed up an elegant Mother's Day brunch of oysters on the half shell, one eyebrow raised mischievously. Wouldn't this be the perfect opportunity to test the limits of my bivalve consumption? I called Hog Island and greedily ordered 3 dozen Sweetwaters, Kusshis, and Hood Canals to pick up at their Ferry Building booth on Sunday morning. As it turned out, they gave us several more than 3 dozen which delighted me. We also grabbed an Acme rustic loaf and three kinds of cheese from Cowgirl Creamery for grilled cheese sandwiches to go with the potato leek soup I made the night before.
Now, the plan, of course, was that the rest of us would shuck the oysters so that Mom could put her feet up and relax on this most matriarchal of days. The plan, of course, was soon foiled when it became apparent that she was far more capable with an oyster knife (I, bleeding, called it quits after shucking fewer than a dozen). But this is nothing new — by now, she's used to stepping in when the rest of us prove to be inept. However, I provided homemade mignonette which I felt made up for my shortcomings.
So slurp we did, and in the end I ate at least a dozen. But I'm happy to continue to test those limits. For the recipe, read on.