When we order sashimi items from Catalina, we like to order several items together so the shipping charges aren’t more than the value of the item being shipped. The best combination for us is “Gold Uni sea urchin” and fresh “Blue fine tuna toro” 本マグロのとろ. Sometimes this combination is difficult to achieve–one item may be available but the other is not. This time, they had the fresh tuna; both “akami” 赤身 or “loin” and “toro” of blue fine tuna. The only sea urchin available, however, was “live” whole sea urchins. I just couldn’t pass up the combination of tuna so I decided to go ahead with the live sea urchins as well.
My wife likes the combination of sea urchin and nori so I also served thin nori strips on the side. The the sea urchin roe were excellent. They can’t be any fresher than this (the spines were still slowly moving even after I opened it up).
The roe, however, are hard won—this is messy work. The box arrived on an extremely hot day. The ice packs in which the shipment were packed were partially thawed so the interior of the box was wet with condensation moisture. The sea urchin were in a plastic bag but the spines had poked through the bag during shipment. Liquid from the sea urchins had seeped out of the holes made by the spines and combined with the condensation moisture. Sea urchin goop was all over everything including the packages of toro. Some of the spines were even embedded in the interior of Styrofoam outer case. Some clean-up was required.
There are many ways of retrieving roe from live sea urchin. Video instruction at Catalina suggest using two spoons to crack the sea urchin in half. I used the method I am most familiar with and perhaps the method most Japanese will use. To avoid having the spines and shell fragments going into the garbage disposal, I placed the sea urchin in a large metal bowl with the bottom side (where the mouth opening is located) facing up (#1 below). While holding the sea urchin using metal tongs, I cut across the bottom with a pair of sharp kitchen scissors (#2 below). After the bottom has opened up, using either forceps or long bamboo chopsticks (the latter was what I used), I removed some of the black entrails revealing the bright yellow roe (#3 below). Using the chopsticks and a long narrow spoon, I removed the roe carefully. I put them in a bowl of salted water. I removed any black stuff still attached to the roe using chopsticks and rinsed the roe in new clear salted water again (#4 below) Some roe were small and it was not possible to avoid fragmenting some of the pieces.
I do not think this is for everybody. You could loose your appetite during these processes but the end result was great fresh sea urchin roe. We savored the bounty of our labor while sipping cold sake. The blue fin tuna was also excellent. This was the best toro we have had in recent memory and even the loin meat was not “akami” but a nice “chu-toro”.