I am writing about sea urchin, the prickly black spiny sea creature that's sweet and creamy to eat. The Japanese absolutely adore them for their texture and briny goodness. When sea urchin is paired with a nicely chilled bottle of summer sake, you get the perfect opus. There are two ways to eat urchin. First way would be to bake them over heated charcoal; low and slow. Make sure they are opened up before you bake them. The natural salts in the sea urchin bake into the meaty parts and give almost a creamy pudding like texture. You can spoon it right out of the shell and know that this is the only way to really enjoy eating it.
This trip to Aomori was during what's called " umi-no-hi, or oceans day" a minor holiday on the Japanese calendar. Almost no Japanese observe this day for its namesake, instead, most families spend time with friends and family, some say it's the start of the beach going season. For me, this day is the days when I conquered the backbone of Japan, me and my Jukujo would explore local kitchens in search of local seafood delicacies. The significance of "umi-no-hi" is to enjoy seafood I think, and since it fell on a Monday this year, the time when all fish markets close through-out Japan, I decided to head out to Aomori to another outdoor kitchen - Hachinohe. Around mid summer ( end of July to beginning of summer) are good seasons for sea urchin. Farmed and off season sea urchin is not as good as freshly caught sea urchin in its natural nativity. Seasonality and regionality REALLY does matter! Sure, the snobs of the West will disagree with me, and it's okay. Don't listen to them. Only follow the fat guy who knows where the good food is.
In the Tohoku region of Japan you can expect to see large crowds gathering around campsites, parking lots, and grills with fresh seafood spread out. I returned to one of my favorite sake breweries in this region where I had helped plant and grow many of its sake rice, including several other breweries all over the country. The caveat to coming out this way is the price for transportation, so if you are on a limited travel budget then avoid express transport.
|Freshly caught sea urchin of the day taste best when its never stored.|
|Once open take a pair of tweezers and remove the excess fleshy parts surrounding the membrane|
|Being careful not to hurt your hand|
When it comes to when and where to enjoy sea urchin, then I must first say avoid The Kanto ( Tokyo...Yokohama...etc.) Sea urchin is very delicate and its taste is easily affected by temperature and time limitations. There are other factors, too, but for some reason the flavor profiles are more pungent and highly undesirable in The Kanto, and maybe in some other regions in Japan. Storage may be a factor as well. It's best to enjoy sea urchin from the time its freshly caught, no time should be wasted shipping it. The fresher the better!
The Japanese soldiers who have followed my blog through the years know how I like it here, and know I like to jump out into the deep with shit. I couldn't pass up an opportunity to enjoy great sea urchin from the hinterlands of the great North; been doing it for years! These days been working and pretending to be a salaryman, so have not been blogging enough.
Now, as for how to properly enjoy eating urchin I would suggest avoiding adding it to anything just yet... Just eating it as it is should suffice. Having a chilled freshly pressed sake to refresh the palate would be best for eating sea urchin, not beer. Beer is for fried foods. Some would say I'm being pretentious - I am... I pretense that sake sales suffer in Japan because of a lack of good marketing... Had the sake marketeers been advertising the beautiful balance between seafood and sexy Japanese ladies instead of sissy Japanese ( she-men) years ago, instead of trying to export it to white people in Europe, the sake market at home would not look so grim. At least the Kansai region got it right with how it uses television airtime.
Sea urchin is creamy and smooth - those are nice keywords. Sake is clean and smooth - good keywords. There's a sort of feminine balance there that needs to be focused on. The reason most Japanese don't enjoy its own natural ocean bounty is because of a lack of clever marketing schemes. Too many goofy queer T.V. talents and not enough men with balls like myself. It's only me against the Japanese establishment here. The only pure defender of Japanese sake in the world. Second way to enjoy it is just to eat it raw.