“Uni Muki” — How to prepare a sea urchin

In previous posts I’ve covered how a squid is prepared for consumption in Japan (unfortunately now eaten in one of our site updates), and showed the consumption of a fish’s heart still beating. During a recent trip to Rebun Island, the northernmost island in Japan after Hokkaido, I had a chance to break open and prepare a sea urchin at a local fishery. The pictures of the experience are posted here for readers to enjoy below.

Sea urchins are a delicacy in Japan. Here is a tub of the spiny creatures waiting to be shipped across the country or otherwise served up for food.

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The only edible part of the creature are its orange gonads. This requires completely destroying the creature, breaking through its spines and hard crusty shell. To split the creature open, three tools are required — a chisel with a lever, a dull scalpel, and twezers.

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The rest of this gets messy… don’t continue to read if you have a thin skin (no pun intended).

First, the chisel is stabbed into the top of the urchin about half an inch.

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Then, the level is pulled and the flat part of the chisel pushes open, splitting the sea urchin in half.

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With bare hands, the sea urchin is then pulled apart, its spines still wriggling in desperation. I asked a native supervising my experience if I would be hurt by grabbing the spines of this sea urchin which would likely do anything to stop its own destruction. The lady replied, “the only one who is going to be hurt here is that sea urchin.”

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The dull scalpel is then used to scrape the inside of the sea urchin into a tray, trying to avoid the brown inards and aim for only the orange gonads.

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Twezers are then used to remove the brown innards that are not the tender orange gonads. The gonads are then washed in salt water and served as is.

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Here’s one popular tourist food — sea urchin served over rice, with wasabi on top (sale price approximately US$18).

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About Curzon

Lord George Nathaniel Curzon (1859 - 1925) entered the British House of Commons as a Conservative MP in 1886, where he served as undersecretary of India and Foreign Affairs. He was appointed Viceroy of India at the turn of the 20th century where he delineated the North West Frontier Province, ordered a military expedition to Tibet, and unsuccessfully tried to partition the province of Bengal during his six-year tenure. Curzon served as Leader of the House of Lords in Prime Minister Lloyd George's War Cabinet and became Foreign Secretary in January 1919, where his most famous act was the drawing of the Curzon Line between a new Polish state and Russia. His publications include Russia in Central Asia (1889) and Persia and the Persian Question (1892). In real life, "Curzon" is a US citizen from the East Coast who has been a financial analyst, freelance translator, and university professor; he is currently on assignment in Tokyo.
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9 Responses to “Uni Muki” — How to prepare a sea urchin

  1. Michael says:

    Well, that kills any desire I might have had to try sea urchin:P

  2. Kou Jie says:

    Many thanks for this background! We have enjoyed uni on our trips to Hokkaido and occasionally even spring for it where we live (Hong Kong).

    Uni is truly a nuanced pleasure, and now I’m clearer on why it is so costly.

  3. Sejo says:

    In my hometown, Bari, in south-eastern Italy, raw seafood is a common snack. You can buy it quite everywhere on the sea promenade. Sea urchins as well, as squids and date mussels, but we open them with just a knife.
    Maybe the usual Levantine malice?

  4. Curzon says:

    Also, for the avoidance of doubt of any readers, me and my travel companions promptly consumed the uni you see there after completing the wash in salt water.

  5. Chirol says:

    And people wonder why I avoid seafood…

  6. I’d eat that.

    Wash it down with cold beer.

  7. Curzon says:

    Next time you’re in Tokyo, Lex, consider it on me.

  8. kurt9 says:

    Uni is my favorite sushi.

  9. Oliver says:

    Had this at Tojo’s in Vancouver one time. I think the only time I’ve ever felt close to heaving from eating something; hated the flavour, hated the texture.