Japanese Uni recipes | What is Uni & how to prepare it

by Joost Nusselder | Updated on:  June 3, 2020

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.

In this blog post, we’ll explore some of the most popular Uni recipes that you can make at home.

Japanese Uni recipes

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 or sashimi

How is Uni served?

Expect to find Uni in sushi and sashimi dishes. It is most often served as nigiri sushi, placed on a ball of sticky rice, and seasoned with soy sauce.

Uni is also a popular topping for gunkan maki sushi. This type of sushi roll is called the “battleship” because it is shaped like a vessel and has room for fillings.

The uni is on top of the rice which is wrapped in Nori seaweed

In Japan, you can also find uni sashimi or raw uni. It’s meant to be eaten while alive from popular street vendor stalls. 

I know what your next question is…

Can Uni be eaten raw?

Yes, sea urchins can be eaten raw just like oysters or sashimi. If the uni is fresh, it is perfectly safe to eat. The taste is briny and lightly sweet so it’s not something that will put you off.

Note that the only edible parts of the sea urchins are the gonads. The urchin is cut up and the gonads are taken out and served raw. 

Here are the recipes of the two most popular Uni dishes in Japan:

Japanese Uni tempura recipe

Delicious and crispy Uni tempura rolled in nori
Course Side Dish
Cuisine Japanese
Keyword Tempura, Uni
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Total Time 20 minutes
Servings 4 people
Author Joost Nusselder
Cost $20

Ingredients

  • Fresh Uni
  • Nori sheets
  • Oba (Japanese basil)
  • Tempura batter
  • Sesame oil
  • Vegetable oil for frying

Instructions

  • 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

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While you probably don’t have all of the ingredients yet, getting fresh Uni might be the biggest challenge. Make sure to look for fresh live sea urchins for the:  tastiest dish. Here are the other ingredients you might need:

Uni Nigiri Sushi

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Instructions

    1. Garnish with spring onion. Sprinkle the uni with lemon juice and set aside. Take a mall bulk of seasoned rice and roll it into an oval-shaped ball.
    2. Arrange the beds of rice on the serving table.
    3. <

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    refully place one tongue of uni on top of each rice ball.

  1. Serve it with soy sauce and wasabi.li>

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How do I know the sea urchin is fresh?

High quality is seafood is more expensive than your regular fish varieties. There are only 18 types of edible sea urchins and catching them is no easy task for fishermen.

That’s the reason for the high price of uni. If you want to determine if the sea urchin&nbsp;fresh, consider the color, taste, and texture. The best quality uni has a vibrant color and feels firm to the touch. It should NOT smell fishy. It must have a slight ocean water scent but if there is any fishy or overpowering scent, it is likely rotten.

Also read:f=”https://www.bitemybun.com/different-sushi-types-explained” data-mce-href=”https://www.bitemybun.com/different-sushi-types-explained”> the types of sushi everyone should know about

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 5 ideas to eat uni in modern ways.

These recipes are inspired by recipes from around the world.

  1. Italian Risotto with Uni
  2. Uni Toast or Bruschetta
  3. Uni Spaghetti
  4. Ika Uni
  5. Uni Ceviche

Italian Risotto with Uni

This is a creamy, risotto dish that takes comfort food to another level.

Ingredients:

Instructions:

Uni Toast or Bruschetta

Think of uni toast as a type of uni bruschetta, crispy and flavorful. 

Ingredients:

Instructions:

Creamy Sea Urchin Spaghetti

Ingredients:

Instruction:

Ika Uni

This is not really a recipe, but an easy way to eat raw uni. Ika uni refers to a mixture of raw sea urchin and squid. 

In a bowl add the following ingredients and mix them:

Uni Appetizer Ceviche

Ceviche is a popular South American seafood dish. It is made with marinated raw fish or seafood and served as an appetizer. The seafood is cured with citrus juice and spiced with chili flakes. Here is the recipe for uni ceviche.

Ingredients

Instructions: 

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 kind of weird to eat sea urchin because the animal has spiky, hard, and pitch-black exterior.

Little do they know that 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.

Also read: these are some great Teppanyaki seafood recipes you could try

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. 

A uni dish is significantly more expensive if it is served as soon as it is taken out of the sea. The overall taste is lightly sweet and similar to other seafood.

But, contrary to popular belief, it does not taste fishy. Experts describe the taste as ‘oceany and briny’. 

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 Prepare Uni for Eating

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.

uni sea urchin

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.

You can now cook the uni or eat it raw.

What goes well with Uni?

Uni has a very distinct flavor and it can be eaten in many combinations. It is well paired with sushi and other seafood.

But it tastes great when combined with pasta, such as linguine, spaghetti, and ravioli. If you want something more special, try uni with baked shrimp or served inside tacos.

That’s a whole new way to enjoy fish tacos. 

How long is Uni good for?

Most uni is good for approximately 10 days in the fridge. You can freeze it for up to 60 days. You must serve fresh uni within 2 days or it goes bad.

The shelf life of live sea urchin is about 5 days. So, prepare to eat this food up fast. 

Why is sea urchin so expensive?

Consider sea urchin as a type of delicacy. It is very difficult to catch these critters in the sea. It is not like fishing, where they use industrial methods.

The only way to catch them in the wild waters is by diving. Most of it is harvested by hand divers. In some cases they use Daggers.

Therefore, it is no surprise that Uni is expensive because it is hard to harvest. 

Conclusion

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

 

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Joost Nusselder, the founder of Bite My Bun is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with Japanese food at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.