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What looks like cow’s tongue, tastes like the ocean, and has a creamy texture? Any guesses, guys? If you have tasted uni (sea urchin) before, you are sure to give a prompt reply or else keep scratching your head! Good or gross, whatever you think about uni, one thing is for sure that you cannot ignore this delicacy as it appears in the menu of almost every sushi restaurant around the world.
What Is Sea Urchin (Uni)?
Uni (pronounced as oo-nee and not you-nee)is the Japanese word for the edible part of sea urchin. These are sea creatures that look like aquatic hedgehogs. Although it is often referred to as roe or eggs, uni is actually the reproductive organ or gonads of sea urchin that produces roe or milt. These are an exotic and rare treat for those who have an acquired taste.
Uni comes in different grades that I will discuss below and the colors may range from rich golden to bright yellow. It has a creamy consistency and rich taste that melts into the mouth and feels heavenly. Again, let’s not forget that it needs an acquired taste so this might be off-putting to some while others feel it is to die for!
What Is Sea Urchin Sushi or Uni Sushi?
Uni sushi has earned a respectable place for itself ion the menu at sushi restaurants around the world. It is highly praised by food critics, chefs, and foodies. The sweet and briny flavor makes it a delectable delight that is often enjoyed as sashimi or nigiri sushi. Some people describe their experience of tasting sea urchin as similar to the flavor of the ocean but not very fishy.
In this guide, I will tell you everything you need to know about Sea Urchin Sushi, but before that let’s take a look at some of the most popular sushi recipes that use uni.
Sea Urchin Sushi Roll (Uni Sushi Roll)
• Sea urchins or uni like this
• Snow peas (slices into three long batons)
• Half cup seasoned sushi rice
• Roasted nori sheets
• Rice vinegar
• Daikon grated
• Wasabi, soy sauce, pickled ginger
• Japanese spinach leaves, shredded
Open the sea urchin and extract the orange-colored roe carefully. Rinse in clean water, drain and marinate with lemon juice until you are ready to use them.
Mix the wasabi and grated daikon to make a spicy and tangy condiment. You may also use straight wasabi if you are feeling adventurous.
To start assembling, place the Nori sheet on the bamboo mat that is covered with a plastic wrap.
Wet your hands and take a medium ball of sushi rice. Spread it all over the Nori, leaving an inch gap on all sides.
Put shredded spinach and snow pea slices over the sushi rice. Now top the veggies with sea urchin roe. Each sea urchin contains about 5 roes, so you can use two and a half for each roll.
Add a line of wasabi to the fillings placed over the sushi rice and start rolling the bamboo mat by lifting the side near you.
Spread a thin line of wasabi mix on the rice next to your row of ingredients and top with slices of pickled ginger.
Shape the roll into a cylindrical log and cut it into 6-8 equal pieces. Serve the sushi pieces with soy sauce.
Related Article: Why Is My Nori So Chewy? [Options to Improving Your Seaweed]
Sea Urchin (Uni) Nigiri Sushi
Marinate the cleaned sea urchin with some lemon juice and keep it aside.
Prepare vinegared sushi rice by following the steps mentioned in this article.
Take a medium golf ball size of seasoned sushi rice in your hands, make a smooth ball, and give it an oval shape using your fingers.
Keep the bed of rice on a sushi dinnerware set and carefully place the marinated sea urchin (uni) over it.
Garnish with finely cut spring onions and serve with soy sauce, wasabi, and pickled ginger.
Related article: Nigiri Sushi: All you Need To Know
Uni Tempura Monster Roll
Prepare vinegared sushi rice by seasoning cooked sushi rice with vinegar, salt, and sugar in these steps.
Take half of a Nori sheet, put two half Oba leaves side by side and top it with sea urchin (uni). Roll it up halfway, and cut off the remaining Nori sheet using a sharp Japanese sushi knife.
Dip this roll in the tempura batter and deep fry in vegetable oil or sesame oil.
Put the bamboo mat covered with a plastic sheet on the working table and place the Nori sheet over it.
Take a ball of seasoned sushi rice and spread it evenly on the sheet. Apply gentle pressure to ensure that the rice sticks on the Nori sheet.
Sprinkle some toasted sesame seeds on the rice and flip over the Nori sheet.
Place the two uni tempura on the Nori sheet side-by-side closer to you and start rolling with the help of the bamboo mat.
Pro tip – If there is a mess, don’t worry. Just remove the messy part on the sides using the sushi knife.
Now place the shrimp pieces over the sushi roll, ensuring that the tail protrudes outside.
Use the plastic sheet to gently press the roll one more time to ensure that the shrimp hugs the rice properly. (My suggestion is that you may use other raw fish of your choice as a topping if shrimp is not available).
Cut out equal pieces of the sushi roll with the plastic sheet on. Garnish with finely chopped spring onions and fish roe (masago).
Sea Urchin (Uni) Gunkan
Take cooked sushi rice in a bowl and season it with vinegar, salt, and sugar. Read this article for step-by-step instruction.
Marinate the cleaned sea urchin (uni) with some lemon juice and keep aside
Cut out Nori sheet into four pieces lengthwise and keep them aside
Now take a medium ball of rice and press it in your hands to make an oval base
Take one Nori piece, wrap it around the bed of sushi rice, and close the ends using a few grains
Top the sushi rice with marinated uni and garnish with finely chopped spring onions and masago.
What Are The Different Grades Of Sea Urchin (Uni)?
While uni from different origins may appear similar to a layman, there are numerous differences if you look closer. They are divided into different grades based on texture, color, and freshness. Other factors include the location where the uni is from, diet, gender, and harvest time.
The highest-grade uni usually has a bright gold or orange color with a firm texture and sweet flavor. The low-grade uni has a faint color and they are mostly leftover part of sea urchin after processing. Uni is usually divided into three grades and the characterizes are as follows:
This is vividly gold or bright yellow in color. As this is the highest grade, it is the most expensive of all. It has a firm texture that looks appetizing when used as sushi topping and feels sweet to taste.
This is the second grade that has a matte yellow color and softer texture, but the taste is less sweet than grade A uni.
This is the lowest grade of sea urchin (uni) and it is often called vana. It has a dull yellow color and is formed from the remaining cuts of uni after handling or processing.
In Japan, you can find uni in different forms such as frozen (reito uni), fresh (nama uni), grilled (yaki uni), and steamed (mushi uni). You may also find it in paste form at the grocery stores.
Are Sea Urchins (Uni) An Aphrodisiac Food?
Uni is often known as an aphrodisiac food because it contains a euphoria-causing chemical ingredient, which is similar to the one you find in cannabis. The chemical neurotransmitter is specifically called anandamide or arachidonoylethanolamide.
The anandamides naturally occur in sea urchin gonads, which are the main reproductive system of sea urchins. While I am not sure whether or not a sea urchin sushi can give you a high, it certainly tastes heavenly and leaves a creamy taste in the mouth that makes you happy!
What Are Different Types of Uni Used In Sushi
Today uni is harvested in other parts of the world as well, but Japan is the oldest and most authentic source. Furthermore, using uni in sushi started in Japan, so let’s talk about the different types of uni you can find in the country.
Murasaki uni comes from a dark purple sea urchin with pointed spines and it is the most common type found in Japan. It features a mustard yellow color and has a mild and sweet taste. Murasaki is best used in sushi rolls, or it may also be enjoyed as sashimi to relish its rich and creamy flavor.
Another popular type is called bafun uni and it comes from the smaller size sea urchins that are harvested from the deeper ocean depths. This variety of uni has a bolder and richer flavor with slightly bitter taste. For its distinct flavor, size, and taste, Bafun uni is mostly used in cooked delicacies and sauces.
Related Article: The Difference Between Bafun Uni and Murasaki Uni
Kita-murasaki comes from Hokkaido and they are named after the region’s old traditional Japanese name. This type of uni has a delicate texture with a sweet flavor that tastes better than the regular murasaki uni.
Ezo-bafun uni also comes from Hokkaido, Japan. It has a vibrant jewel-like color and boasts unparalleled creaminess and a sweet aroma. Another popular uni in Japan is aka uni, however, it is imported from California, and they are much larger in size, with a meat-like flavor.
Where to Get Uni For Sushi?
In Japan, most of the sea urchin (uni) used in sushi comes from Hokkaido, Japan. Expert chefs believe that there’s nothing like the sweet and savory taste of the uni from these areas. The rich taste comes from the high level of umami resulting from kelp in these areas. Sea urchins love to eat kelp hence they stay healthy and multiply more.
Next important source of uni is Santa Barbara, California. Uni from California is larger in size mainly due to the high content of sulfur in the sea. The Californian uni is not only large, but it is thick, rich, and creamy in taste.
Some American sushi centers on the East Coast get their uni from Maine because it is close by. According to expert Chef Yamada, the sea urchins from these regions are firmer than other varieties. Uni from Maine has the strongest ocean-like aroma, bright yellow color, and much longer spikes.
Finally, we have the South American sea urchins that are mostly harvested from Chile. Many chefs believe that these are not sushi-grade and they have a long way to go before they can reach the quality found in Japan or the US. Nevertheless, this type of lemon-yellow uni is still used in various sushi restaurants across the country.
What is the calorie count of sea urchin sushi?
If you are watching weight, you will be happy to know that Sea urchin sushi has a low-calorie count, which is only about 34 calories per ounce. This means uni sushi has lower calories than all other types of sushi made from raw fish such as albacore tuna, salmon, and mackerel. If you want to replace your high-calorie diet with some healthier options, you will love uni sushi.
Besides being low in calorie content, sea urchin is also low in fat. It comprises of energy-dense nutrient, which makes it a healthier meal. Another benefit of uni sushi is that it has little to no carbohydrates, hence including it the diet can help with weight loss. It may also result in decreasing the cardiovascular risk factors.
Another health benefit of uni sushi is that it is rich in protein content and most of the calories come from there. Per ounce of uni sushi contains about 3.2 grams of protein.
What is the best time to eat uni in Japan?
In Japan, the best season to enjoy fresh uni is from the fall till the end of December. It is most flavorful during the time when the sea urchin gonads grow in size to prepare for the reproductive season. In Japan, uni festivals are held during the harvesting time for people to enjoy fresh uni.
Why is uni sushi so expensive?
Sea Urchins or Uni is delicate to harvest and difficult to raise. It yields only a small portion of edible meat so the cost of harvesting, cleaning, and bringing them to your plate takes time and effort. All these factors add up to the initial cost.
How to eat sea urchin sushi
You may eat Uni raw in the sashimi style or it may be used as a topping in gunkan maki or a filling inside sushi roll. You may use chopsticks to eat uni sushi if you are comfortable with it or else use your hands to avoid the mess.
The Final Words
Just like raw fish and other raw seafood, uni is also an acquired taste. Some people may take some time to warm up to it but the sweet and briny flavor with a rich ocean-like taste is sure to captivate you! This luscious seafood has been used in making sushi for years and if you haven’t yet tried one then you are surely missing out an incredible experience. Like it or loathe, but you must try it at least once. Who knows you may develop a new favorite?