The Failsafe Toppings To Get The Most Out Of Fresh Uni

Despite its prickly exterior, there is a small amount of tender, edible meat beneath the spiky surface of most sea urchins. And these five pieces of orange-colored protein (known as its "tongues") are actually the urchin's reproductive organs. As food, urchins are better known by their Japanese moniker, uni, and due to the relative scarcity of these echinoderms and the difficulty of harvesting them, they are considered a delicacy.

So, if one is inclined to try uni, what's the best way to do it? While folks have incorporated it into butter or even used it to spruce up scrambled eggs, the most conventional way to have it is as sushi. Flagstaff House Restaurant Executive Chef and "Chopped" Champion Chris Royster told Insider he recommends keeping things simple with uni and having it with just a bit of wasabi or adelicate citrus like yuzu. And this tracks with what you'll see at most sushi bars; in contrast to elaborate rolls, uni preparations' focus is the tender tongue itself, so it doesn't tend to get more complicated than a uni nigiri or gunkan maki roll with the usual sushi accouterment of soy, wasabi, and pickled ginger.

A delicate delicacy

Good, fresh uni should have a refreshing, rich ocean-brine taste and a creamy, buttery texture so it almost melts in your mouth, and most chefs agree it is best savored on its own with minimal extra dressing or seasoning. A bit of a citrus pop or a kick of heat can help enhance the subltle salty taste of the seafood without overpowering it and lets it shine as the delicacy it is.  

While they can be enjoyed chilled, straight from the shell with a bit of lemon or hot sauce as above, a more laid-back way to try the dish is to have them as "uni shooters" with lime, Japanese ponzu sauce, and tequila out of a shot glass. But if you're not a fan of pounding seafood or even sushi-style dishes, the delicacy is also a big hit in Italian cuisine, where the rich seafood flavor nicely complements a rustic dish of risotto or linguini. 

While Royster calls uni "some of the best sushi bites you can possibly have," he also admitted they're "an acquired taste." Even though most uni recipes are fairly straightforward, he also notes that preparing the shellfish should probably be left up to professional chefs since harvesting the uni from the shell is a tricky business that involves cracking open the spiny shell and carefully prying out and cleaning the delicate meat from the inside.