Sea Urchins

Sea Urchins

The origin of the sea urchin dates back 540 million years ago, just like its cousins, the starfish and the sea cucumber, which are part of the same family of echinoderms.

This word comes from the Greek ekhinos, meaning hedgehog. Moreover, the sea urchin is also called a sea hedgehog or sea chestnut

All sea urchins live stuck to rocks near grass beds because they are herbivores. They detach themselves at night to feed.

Recent studies of their genetics have shown that the sea urchin has a large number (7077) of genes in common with humans. But they have a more advanced immune system than us, which is why they live for a very long time: some can live for 200 years. As a result, the sea urchin has become the object of extensive scientific study.

France protects the sea urchin by limiting fishing periods because the French are large consumers of it, the second largest in the world. The first are the Japanese. 

Extremely hard, erect spines that are still moving and a closed mouth are signs of freshness. If the spines are folded down, it is not fresh. 

Fresh sea urchins are sold individually or by the dozen. Frozen whole sea urchins, mostly from China, are also available.

Sea urchin tongues (corals) are frozen or canned, sterilized or pasteurized.

Empty shells with their spikes can also be bought. 

A sea urchin is opened with a pair of scissors and gloved hands. Insert the tip of the scissors into the mouth, then give a good hard tap right to the edge, and then cut the shell to the corolla, but not too low so as not to damage the tongues, which can be quite high up inside. Then shake the sea urchin vigorously to remove as much as possible of the brownish innards surrounding the gonads. The rest can be removed with a spoon.

If the sea urchin is not consumed raw, as it is, the gonads are removed with a spoon, but very carefully as they are fragile.

They can be used to garnish scrambled eggs or omelets, and add a beautiful flavor to sauces. Oursinade is a fish soup made with sea urchins, a traditional dish in Provence.

In Japan, uni is used to make sushi and maki. It is the star ingredient in donburimeshi, rice covered with sea urchin, salmon roe, and scallop roe. 

Sea urchins do not keep well and must be used immediately.

Frozen sea urchin tongues must go straight in the freezer without breaking the cold chain.

Pasteurized sea urchin tongues have a use-by date and must be kept in the refrigerator. 

Like all seafood, sea urchins are rich in minerals and vitamins. However, given the minute quantities consumed, this is rather irrelevant.

However, it may cause an allergic reaction in sensitive individuals, including those with an allergy to iodine.

There are over 600 species of sea urchins, some of which are very rare and protected, like the black longspine urchin. Their color is very variable: they can be brown, black, green, purple, red, and even white.

The following are harvested: the common sea urchin or European edible sea urchin (Channel, North Sea, Atlantic), the purple sea urchin (Mediterranean and Atlantic), the green sea urchin (Atlantic, from the Arctic to New Jersey), the edible sea urchin (Mediterranean, Atlantic), and the slate pencil urchin (Indian Ocean and Pacific).

In France, fishing for sea urchins is prohibited from mid-April through October. During the fishing periods, i.e. from November through March, it is forbidden to collect urchins that are less than 8 cm in diameter. 

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