Saturday, September 09, 2006

SEA URCHINS: The Killing and Cleaning Factory

Here's our catch of the day. 32 sea urchins looking pretty and decorative, some with their tan seaweed hats on. That silver tool that looks like a Chinese character though is the instrument of their demise. It's a sea-urchin guillotine.

See how it works? Like a regular guillotine (a humane innovation in the world of public executions, actually) this is very quick and I hope rather painless. When you see these guys "walking" around, almost looking as if they're planning an escape, you start to feel sorry for them. They actually seem cute.

Once they're opened, though, there's no brain visible. You see lots of sea water, a membrane with grey, sandy grit and 5 orange egg sacs lining the sides. That's it. Seeing this allays my guilt and discomfort about killing my own food. Not that it's very scientific to not see a brain and conclude that there isn't one. Nor does it make sense to feel guilty only when you see the death of your meal directly. Grocery shopping removes us from the scene of the crime as it were, not from the responsibility. I wonder how long it would take me to become a vegetarian if I had to kill my own food instead of paying somebody else to do it. Or maybe I'd just get over the guilt and get on with it.

Cleaning the sea water and grit from the eggs is not an easy thing. Since we had so many urchins, we resorted to rinsing them in water, which got most of the grit out and probably some of the flavor too. Here is a clean urchin with eggs ready for scooping.

Next episode: What we did with all those eggs: Spaghetti ai Ricci di Mare con Limone e Mentuccia Romana (Spaghetti With Sea Urchin, Lemon and Field Balm).


Anonymous Tanna said...

I'm really enjoying the Sea Urchin Trilogy Chronicles - the next part might be the best, right.
I think if we had to kill our own food all the time we'd probably have a much healthier attitude toward the entire thing - regardless of eating meat or becoming vegetarian.
Spaghetti ai Ricci di Mare con Limone e Mentuccia Romana (Spaghetti With Sea Urchin, Lemon and Field Balm) I think I'm ready, just need to know what time.

3:52 PM  
Blogger Man On The Street said...

I...I..I don't know what to think about sea urchins now. Using words like "walking", "escape", "feel sorry", "cute" has pretty much quashed any plans I may have had for trying them. Well, that and the fact that they look hideous. Hope they taste better than they look. And the name "urchin" doesn't help... I keep picturing some ruddy-faced Dickensian kid with a newsboy cap and a tattered coat... Awwww, I can't eat you, kid...

6:26 PM  
Blogger Paz said...

32 sea urchins! That's a lot!


7:09 PM  
Blogger Susan in Italy said...

Hi Tanna, I think you're right about the killing-your-own-food thing. At least there wouldn't be giant corporate farms. Now, I'm full of performance anxiety about the next episode. I don't know if it'll be better or not!

Hi M.O.T.S., Ya mean yer not gonna try 'em? I think it's hilarious that people spend handfuls of money on seafood that looks like giant insects. Shrimp and lobster, in particular (not that they aren't delicious, mind you. If you saw something resembling a shrimp lurking around your kitchen cabinets at night, you'd be horrified, right?

Hi Paz, Yeah, I couldn't believe Valeria and Simone caught that many with just a knife and plastic bag.

10:24 PM  
Anonymous Tanna said...

Eh, performance anxiety. No worry here, it doesn't need to be better, just continuation of the same. You're doing beautifully.
Don't think I responded to your comment about my fried chicken. Yes, I know the oysters and agree they are a divine and delicate part. They were my mom's favorite along with the part that "went over the fence last".

2:31 PM  
Blogger rowena said...

If I knew this would be posted on the weekend, I would change our policy on not using the pc during the only time that we can really get out and do things. LOVED this post of course and am eyeing your guillotine tool...been wanting to find one just like that but I haven't seen any of the sort around here. As for killing your own food before eating them? Yar! Gimme them urchins and I'll carve'em up for dinner!

12:48 PM  
Blogger Susan in Italy said...

Hi Tanna, Thanks, I'm relaxed now. The next post has no pretty scenery like the others, though. My Dad calls "the part that went over the fence last" the Pope's nose. Gross, isn't it?

Hi Rowena, Yar! I AM impressed. This means you're an urchin veteran, doesn't it? My in-laws are stopping over on their drive back to Geneva tonight. I'll ask them where they got the guillotine for you.

6:48 PM  
Blogger hellomelissa said...

hmmmm. i always feel guilty preparing and eating lobster and mussels. this is a great food post in trilogy form. a literal culinary adventure. i love it.

11:19 PM  
Blogger Lotus Reads said...

Susan said:

"I wonder how long it would take me to become a vegetarian if I had to kill my own food instead of paying somebody else to do it."

That's really thought-provoking Susan. Sure makes me highly appreciative of our local butcher and our seafood store.

A really nice post - I was both entertained and informed. Thanks, Susan!

3:08 PM  
Anonymous scott said...

beautiful pics, Susan - they look kinda like big black chestnuts.

I salute you for taking the dispatching of the urchins seriously - visible brain or no, you definitely get a better appreciation of what you are eating when part of the recipe involves killing dinner.

7:09 PM  
Blogger Susan in Italy said...

Hi Melissa, Do you remember the lobster escape scene in Annie Hall?

Lotus, Thank you!

Scott, You know in Italian "ricci" refers both to the green, spiky outer coating of the chestnut and the spines of the sea urchin, good call!

11:22 PM  
Blogger Tracie B. said...

think rrriiiicccii, not urchin. sounds better right? love 'em. when i was a kid i wouldn't try squash just because it had an ugly name. if someone had only called it zucca! che peccato...

10:21 PM  
Blogger fuzz said...

Where did you find the guillotine? We're going ab diving soon and want to get some Uni while we're at it. We got some last year but botched the cleaning and just ate messy spoonfuls of raw Uni. It was still tasty but this time I want to do it right. Any advice greatly apprecitated.

5:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have been searching for a sea urchin "cleaner" for ages ..can anyone suggest where I may find one???

12:25 PM  

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