By Patrick Stuart [email protected]
I’ve eaten sea urchin in many a Japanese restaurant but one of my most memorable experiences, until this weekend, had been a trip on a fishing boat in Croatia some years ago, when we dived down and grabbed them off the rocks to be cracked open and then eaten on the boat.
But despite my 35 years living in Portugal, I had never until Sunday eaten this delicacy harvested straight from the ocean here in the Algarve. My good friend Joaquim called me on Sunday morning on his way back from Sagres where he had spent the morning harvesting a few cratefuls of them.
The breed of urchin that is found here in Portugal is best eaten during February or early March, so we were effectively at the end of the season, but, as can be seen from the photograh, they were still full of roe.
I joined Joaquim and a group of his friends at his fishing colleague’s house to sample them just a few hours after they were caught. Here in the Algarve, they are usually eaten cooked (boiled) but I sampled them both raw and boiled.
The raw ones were still alive as we cracked them open to reveal the glistening orange or pink pockets of roe. Sweet, salty and mildly fishy, this is a true delicacy of the ocean.
Cooked, the roe was a little firmer and milder in flavour, still delicious, but in my opinion this a treat best served raw, as they do in Japan.
You will never see them in the market, but next February I plan to brave the ocean myself, in my wetsuit, mask and snorkel, and dive down for a few. There are plenty of them off of any rocky beach.
It does seem strange that such a fabulous ingredient is not harvested here to be sold at markets and restaurants, but it seems to be reserved for those who forage it from nature. As they say, the best things in life are free.