HOME > Chowhound > General Topics >


Sea Urchin Roe

Chefs go crazy for it.

I have tried it a couple times at fairly nice sushi resturants, and found it not great.
Sort of fishy with a strange texture...

Did i get poor quality both times? What am i missing?

Is it one of those things thats amazing when fresh but horrible when just normal?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. It's something that does need to be fresh, yes but what kind of seafood isn't better when fresh?

    First, you can buy the sea urchin roe/uni just like the restaurant can. Assuming there's a respectable Asian market around you somewhere, they will likely carry it. So, quality of the product is issue #1. If it's not good to start with, it's not going to get any better just because some sushi chef put it on a plate for you. Point is, just because it's a "nice" sushi restaurant and you pay more there than an average sushi restaurant, doesn't mean that the product will be any better.

    Second, if texture is an issue for you, try something else and don't expect to like uni.

    Third, the taste is going to be "of the sea", while that can possibly be described as somewhat fishy, it should not be overpowering and rank smelling. If it is, review item #1. Oysters are a good benchmark here; oysters should have a fresh, clean smell and taste, but they will also be briny and have a delicate ocean taste to them. If that's "fishy" to you then, yes, that's what uni will taste like. So while oysters and uni do not taste the same, the measure of freshness/quality can be thought of in the same terms.

    3 Replies
    1. re: HaagenDazs


      I do love oysters, abalone, clams, muscles and so on, almost all seafood in fact. so an "of the sea" flavor does not bother me.

      I think the texture was just alarming when it comes with a bad flavor. I would compare it to if you were to puree canned tuna in a blender or something.

      Seems like both times i just must have recieved sub-par quality product.
      Maybe i will give sea urchin another try....

      1. re: Amidahidan

        Who knows. I think the texture is going to be pretty close to what you described. Wet, fluffy, creamy all at the same time. Kind of custard-y. Obviously the fact that you like oysters, you can't be completely turned off by texture! ;-)

        If you're really interested in trying to find quality, find a sushi chef that will talk to you about their business. If he/she is a stickler for quality then you're probably in a good spot. If not, then look elsewhere.

        At one restaurant I like to visit, I've seen the head sushi chef pull out a whole side of tuna to prep it, cut into it, and then essentially toss it. He wasn't going to use it because it wasn't up to his level of quality. He didn't actually throw it away in the garbage - he was going to have a few choice words with his supplier and show it to him - but it wasn't going to be served in his restaurant. That's a very good thing to see, of course! When I asked him if he had any other favorite sushi restaurants, he said that there were only 2 or 3 others in the entire city of Atlanta that he would visit. This was because he felt that they were as particular about the quality of fish as he was.

        1. re: HaagenDazs

          What are the sushi restaurants in Atlanta did he say and what restaurant did this chef work at?

    2. Even if you get it fresh (and by fresh, I mean while diving off the california coast), some taste better than others, and not everybody cares for it.

        1. sea urchin is one of my favourite things. Amazing sushi, or as spaghetti a la ricci di mare..

          I was lucky enough to eat uni in Hokkaido, Japan, one of the best places to have it, and apparently they put some kind of preservative on the uni when sold in cities away from the sea.. The closer you have it to the source, the less preservative they add.. So needless to say, I was in heaven when I had uni in Hokkaido..

          1. When fresh WONDERFUL,Vancouver area,sea kayak,shallow water,pocket knife and infant's spoon,so very tasty.
            Put it in a ?box or ship it and I'll pass.It's just not the same thing to me.

            1 Reply
            1. re: lcool

              when vacationing on the Big Island we saw hundreds upon hundreds of sea urchin while snorkeling. My hubby and I are huge uni fans so the first thing we thought of when we saw them was harvesting a few and eating them (probably illegal, but shhh...). That first night we hopped on the internet to look up how to open them. When we realized we would have to cut out a moving "face" in order to open it we decided to go out to a sushi restaurant for our uni fix. I regret not going for it because they probably would have been amazing!

            2. It is just a matter of taste. I don't like cooked fish (seafood yes, fish no) but love sushi and sashimi. I LOVE Uni. My local place calls the house when they get it!!! Anyway, have a dear friend who loves sushi and cooked fish and seafood too! She tried the uni and gagged lol!!! Said it tasted fishy! I don't like fishy - but then to me it didn't taste fishy!

              1 Reply
              1. re: Linda VH

                Hmmm, I have the same taste in fish/seafood/sushi, but I've honestly never tried Uni - perhaps on $1 sushi night at the local sushi bar I'll have to give it a go. My SO will eat anything, so if I don't like it, it won't go to waste.

              2. Just a question for those in the know.
                First, I enjoy sushi, sashimi, oyster&clams (raw or cooked), squid, octopus, salmon roe, etc etc. I also ate sea urchin roe at a sushi joint a few times - it seemed to come out of a plastic tray/mini crate and didn't seem to have much flavor.
                Like the OP, I chalked it up to maybe I gotta be trying it just after hauling out of the water.

                A coupla years ago, we were scarfing down oysters, clams, and chowder at the Grand Central Oyster Bar in Manhatten. Their special board showed sea urchin for $2 each. $2 each? Sounds cheap, right, so we order two, cause only my buddy and me will eat em (not the wives). If they're good, we'll order more (and more).

                They arrived raw, no problem, with a hole in the top. The inside simply looked like stuff spooned out of a mud puddle - no roe sac, no structure, just goop. We spooned some out and it was simply terrible.
                Not bland, not sea-watery, but a grayish, goopy, metallic tasting plaster-of-paris meets three mile island type of thing.

                We were wondering if they pulled these things outta the Hudson.

                Any thoughts?

                3 Replies
                1. re: porker

                  Sounds like you were had. When you open a fresh from the sea floor sea urchin, first you have to cut out its beak, then you wash it out. It eats a lot of vegetation, and that's floating around inside it. Once you've washed that out, then inside the baseball to soft ball sized hollow shell there are lens shaped bands up the inside of the shell that are the roe. Their natural state is clinging to the inside of the otherwise empty shell. You can eat it by bringing it out by the spoonful or in a whole segment. If it's laying loose in the bottom of the shell, you've been had.

                  Now, there is a huge variance in flavor with newly caught sea urchins. When they are freshly caught and you're sitting in the diving boat eating them, they are all delicious, but some can be blow-your-mind delicious! Being addicted to fresh sea urchin is sort of like smoking.... It's the once or twice a week great cigarettes that keep you smoking the rest of the crap. I finally gave up smoking about fifteen or so years ago. And I gave up uni when I moved farther than a ten minute stroll from the Pacific Ocean. If they have to bring the sea urchin to me on a plane or train, they won't be worth eating.

                  1. re: Caroline1

                    Re sea urchin roe: are these critters all girls? Aren't there any boy urchins?

                    1. re: Sharuf

                      Well, actually the "sea urchin roe" is not roe, as in eggs, but "gonads" as in male or female reproductive organs. I don't know who started calling it roe, but it sounds better than saying "sea urchin gonads." I mean, how many people will eat a Rocky Mountain oyster, right? So in real world terms, there are boy and girl sea urchins, and they both (as far as I know) have these lens shape gonads inside the shells. At least out of hundreds of freshly caught sea urchins I've eaten sitting in a diving boat, not one of them was empty. You can probably find a lot more information on the web about sea urchin reproduction. They all have long , somewhat poisonous spines attached to their central ball-like shell, their mouth is under them, and I can't imagine them being very nurturing parents with all those spines threatening their offspring all the time. If I recall correctly, the females release their eggs, the males release their spermatazoa (or whatever they have) and the ocean unites the two on a shoal. I think the tiny little critters mature into reproductive adults in about a couple of years. And if there is a way to tell a male sea urchin from a female sea urchin by looking inside it after you remove the mouth, I have absolutely no idea how. They all tasted good. They eat a diet of kelp an sea plants, and you have to wash that out of them. And in my entire lifetime, I have eaten ONE sea urchin that was so spectacularly flavored that if I still lived near an ocean, I would be gorging on urchins trying to find just one more that tastes that good. It had the flavor of fresh flowers. Magnificent!