While visiting South Korea this summer, we went to the East Sea to do some nice beach swimming. My uncle happened to know some of the old fishermen at the shore, so they treated us to some live action assorted fishing tasks. I saw one guy snorkel and catch a fish right there, and bring in a crate full of freshly caught sea urchins. At first it didn't seem like much, but apparently sea urchin is quite a delicacy in Korea, and an expensive one at that. But here they were, sitting like 99 cent used CDs in a crate, at no charge. They were alive too, spikes still moving around. I picked one up to feel it, cuddling it like a softball sized small puppy. It didn't feel too sharp, and the spikes would react curiously when I touched them. The sea urchin was promptly snatched out of my hands, only to be brutally sliced in half with a big fishing knife and handed back to me.
"Eat the yellow, that's the good part," my uncle proclaims in a Korean accent as he delightfully sucks the gooey innards out of his urchin. I stuck my finger inside of mine, took some of the yellow mystery food, and tasted...
Hmm... not bad... a bit salty... oh, I have sea water on my hands... ok why is this thing still moving?
So it's really not that bad, but it is a tad disgusting. In fact, it's kind of massaging to your hand, yet refreshingly gross. Here's how you can eat your own live sea urchin while it's still squirmimg:
- Turn the sea urchin upside-down so that the mouth is face up. It may be easier to put it on a large rock or cutting board.
- Using your large knife, cut directly down the center of the urchin, cutting it almost in half. Stop cutting when you've almost cut through the shell, called the test. The sea urchin should now be cut in half, but still connected.
- Open the sea urchin so that you can view inside both halves. Now there will be an assortment of internal stuff inside, but on my particular species, we're looking for the yellow stuff. It's known as roe or "uni" in Japanese sushi bars. It's actually just the gonads of the urchin (thanks to Ouroboros for that info)
- If you don't want to eat all that other junk, there's really only 2 ways to get around it. Either eat around it with the aid of chopsticks or your tongue, or splash it upside-down in the sea. That should clean out all the innards leaving the tasty roe, but will leave a salty flavor and may kill the urchin. (Remember, the whole fun in this is feeling and seeing the spikes move around while you suck out its insides)
- Enjoy your live sea urchin!
TIP: If you want your sea urchin extra squirmy, splash some sea water on it before starting the above steps. Watching a whole crate full of sea urchins helplessly fidget before their live consumption is quite a sight.
Advanced technique: If you want to make a nice decorative squirming bowl, take the following steps:
- Place the sea urchin on its side, with the bottom facing in the direction of your knife hand. You'll have to hold it, so if it's too sharp, then get a towel or gloves.
- Slice off the bottom of the test, or essentially the entire mouth. Do this carefully so that things don't get messy inside and you don't lose valuable sea urchin roe
- After opening, it's more comfortable to eat with chopsticks, holding the squirming urchin bowl with your other hand.
Now that's some good authentic Korean cuisine! Next time you hear someone happily proclaim that they looove Asian food, you might have to redefine it for them. Next up is Chewing a really slimy sea cucumber seconds after it's been sliced open and Ripping the skin off a live fish while it's still wiggling.
(Yea, I tried and witnessed, respectively, both of these events on that same day.)