In Japan, the word Uni refers to the gonads of sea urchins that people cook and eat. It is one of the most unique cuisines in Japan that you must try.
Originally, Uni was used in sushi. But due to its high popularity, you now can find many kinds of dishes with Uni as the main ingredients.
Traditional Japanese Uni Recipes
In Japan, most uni is served in the form of sushi. That makes sense because sushi is inarguably the most popular way to eat fresh seafood in this country.
Of course, there are many ways to serve uni in sushi. Here are the recipes of two most popular Uni dishes in Japan:
Japanese Uni tempura recipe
- Fresh Uni
- Nori sheets
- Oba (Japanese basil)
- Tempura batter
- Sesame oil
- Vegetable oil for frying
- Prepare a nori sheet
- Arrange oba on top of it
- Top it off again with uni
- Roll the nori so the oba and the uni are all covered, you can roll it in a cigar like shape or have it more as a ball, or you can make both and dress up your table setting very nicely
- Dip the roll in the tempura batter and make sure every piece is covered in the batter
- Deep fry the tempura until it turns golden
- Take it out of the oil and let it soak for 5 minutes
- Serve as a side dish or snack
While you probably don’t have all of the ingredients yet, getting fresh Uni might be the biggest challenge, here are the other ingredients you might need:
Uni Nigiri Sushi
- Fresh uni
- Seasoned sushi rice
- Japanese soy sauce
- Spring onion
- Sprinkle the uni with lemon juice, set aside
- Take a small bulk of seasoned sushi rice and roll it into an oval ball
- Arrange the beds of rice on the serving table
- Carefully place one tongue of uni on top of each rice ball
- Garnish with spring onion
- Serve it with soy sauce and wasabi
Modern Uni Recipes
Modern culinary has brought this sea urchin flavor to the next level. You can now use uni as a bread spread, in a pasta dish, or any other way. Here are some ideas to eat uni in modern ways:
- 10 lobes of uni
- 2 ribs of celery, finely chopped
- 1 stick of plain butter
- Coarse salt
- Chili Oil
- Half teaspoon of lemon juice
- Olive oil
- Sliced baguette
- Blend the uni in a food processor until it gets soft
- Gradually put in the butter and lemon juice with the machine still running
- Add in sea salt to taste
- Set aside until it gets firm
- Toast the baguette slices with olive oil
- Spread the uni butter on the bread
- Sprinkle it with chopped celery and a few drops of chili oil
Creamy Uni Spaghetti
- 6 lobes of uni
- 80 grams of creme fraiche
- 300 grams of dried spaghetti
- Olive oil
- 2 cloves of garlic, finely minced
- 1 tbsp of chili flakes
- 1 piece of shallot, finely minced
- 125 ml Japanese sake or white wine
- Ground black pepper to season
- Take 2 lobes of uni and blend them with creme fraiche, set aside
- Cook the pasta in salted water and start cooking the sauce while waiting for the pasta to turn al dente
- Heat olive oil over a stove on medium heat
- Saute the garlic and shallot until they get aromatic
- Add in the chili flakes
- Pour in the wine or sake
- Let it for about one minute until it is reduced
- Turn off the heat and wait until the pasta is al dente
- When the pasta is done, quickly transfer it to the garlic sauce bowl
- Pour in the uni cream and mix them all well
- If required, spoon in some pasta water to make it easier to mix
- Place the pasta on a plate
Uni Sea Urchin as Food
The concept of taking sea urchins as food is not exclusive to Japan. For many centuries, sea urchin has been cooked in many countries all over East Asia, Alaska, and Mediterrania.
However, the Japanese tend to have their way to cook this marine creature.
Most people think it is kinda weird to eat sea urchin because the animal has spiky, hard, and pitch-black exterior. Little did they know, inside that exoskeleton, there lies some bright-colored meat with a tender texture and rich flavor.
The only edible part of sea urchin is the gonad, which contains roe. The shape looks like a tongue in apricot color. This gonad has a creamy and soft texture which is similar to salmon roe. Each sea urchin usually contains five lobes of the gonad.
What Does Uni Taste like?
Sea urchins can taste differently, depending on the gender, the subspecies, the location, and the cooking method. However, the best taste of uni heavily relies on its freshness. That is why a uni dish would be significantly more expensive if it is served as soon as it is taken out of the sea.
But in general, uni has a strong oceanic flavor and aroma. The taste is savory, slightly salty, and rich. The dish has buttery consistency that melts in your mouth. If you are a seafood aficionado, especially if you love eating fish roe, then you most likely you will love the taste of uni.
However, uni that is no longer fresh would bring out a different flavor. It tastes dank and fishy. There will be an unpleasant after-taste that stays in your mouth for a while. You would feel like something is coating up your throat.
How to Choose and Prepare Uni
As discussed before, the taste of uni depends on how fresh it is. That is why most sea urchins are sold alive and kept alive until it is time to cook them. If you buy sea urchins to cook them yourself, always opt for the alive one.
You can notice how the spikes can still gently move about with the spikes are still stiff and rigid.
Split the black exoskeleton using pointed scissors. If the sea urchin is large, you can start it by drilling a hole on the underside using the scissor’s tip. Wear a glove while doing it to protect you from the sharp spikes.
Inside the round shell, you will see five pieces of orange tongues in a symmetrical position. Those are the unis. Scoop them out carefully using a spoon and rinse them gently with cold water.
Now, uni is ready to be cooked or eaten raw.
Japan is a haven for unique culinary. So if you wish to experience a new taste on your tongue, a Japanese Uni can be a perfect idea for you. Japanese people love it and even tourists are highly curious about it.
You may end up loving it or even completely disliking it, but who knows? So why don’t you go and have a bite?
Also read: best sushi knives for cutting fish and more