(Recipe) Gnocchi with Uni Sauce

As promised,I shall discuss my attempt at an italian-japanese inspired fusion dish.

Part of the inspiration came from the live Maine sea urchins I spotted as I was making my rounds for sashimi ingredients. Unlike the purplish black Santa Barbara sea urchins, these are much smaller, with shorter spines and a characteristic green. They cost about $7 a pound, whereas eating just one uni nigiri in a restaurant can cost upwards of $8. For 1 pound of sea urchin, you get 5 sea urchins and this much gonads, which isn’t a lot, considering the effort it takes to pry them out of their shell

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Extracting/Cleaning Uni

It is much easier to use a pair scissors so as not the destroy the little precious inside. Cut a circle around the mouth (see the teeth? Who would have though that this alien-looking thing contains alien-like matter that taste out-of-this-world?). The circle should have a diameter that spans about 3/4 of the sea urchin’s max diameter, basically wide enough for you to slot a tiny spoon in and extract the uni, but small enough so you don’t cut the uni away.

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Empty the liquid. The black things around gonad are partially digested seaweed, which makes up a bulk of the sea urchin’s diet. Explains partly where uni gets its umaminess from! The spines are not so prickly that you cannot handle it bare handed, but you can always use a cloth to hold it if you are going to apply a lot of pressure.

Drop the uni into a tiny bowl of sake to wash it. I used sea water, which is probably fine too. When scooping the uni out, use the gentlest of touch since they break really easily. I don’t really have any tips for this process since I failed somewhat myself. Just try a few and you will get a hang of it!

Quality

The quality of maine uni varies greatly. I have read that watery, discolored and/or bitter uni are hallmarks of the bad quality stuff. Out of the 5 I purchased, 2 were in this category. One of them had partially black gonads (It was black to the core and not a discoloration by the seaweed), and you could see white cream just off the surface of it. I didn’t bother tasting it cuz it just looks odd. The other had uni with large grains (see photo above.) and tasted bitter. Bleck…. As for the rest, I did not enjoy them quite as much as I would have liked to. The uni didn’t taste like the sweet and rich cream I have come to expect from decent sushi bars. They were stale, fishy with hints of bitterness. This is not to say that all maine uni taste the same. I probably got a bad pick of the lot… Nonetheless, I will not be attempting to prepare uni by myself anytime soon.

Gnocchi

I made a simple sweet potato + potato gnocchi to accompany the uni, which turned out well considering that it was my first attempt. For recipes on the sauce and the gnocchi, stay tune!

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Articles on maine uni

http://bostoncommon-magazine.com/dining/articles/fishing-for-uni-off-maines-bold-coast

 

 

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