[Photograph: J. Kenji López-Alt]
Sea urchin is pricey stuff, but a little goes a long way, and this dish delivers the sort of briny, mineral, sweet, and sophisticated flavor you’d typically expect to find only in a great restaurant. It’s bright and fresh, with a mild heat that cuts through the creamy richness—perfect for pairing with Champagne.
Why It Works
- Blending the sea urchin with Mexican crema or crème fraîche adds bright acidity to the sauce while helping it remain creamy.
- This recipe uses very few ingredients, instead letting the ocean aroma of the sea urchin carry it.
- 4 to 6 ounces fresh sea urchin (uni); see note
- 1/3 cup (80g) Mexican-style crema, or crème fraîche
- 10 ounces (300g) dried long pasta, such as spaghetti or bucatini
- Kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon (15ml) extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
- 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
- 1 small shallot, finely minced
- 1 teaspoon (5ml) Calabrian hot chili spread (see note)
- 1/2 cup (125ml) dry sake or dry white wine, such as Pinot Grigio
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Small handful finely minced fresh chives, for serving
Set aside 4 tongues of sea urchin to use as garnish. Combine remaining sea urchin and crema using a blender, immersion blender, food processor, or mini chopper. Blend until completely smooth. Set aside.
Place pasta in a 12-inch skillet or a saucepan and cover with water. Season with salt. Set over high heat and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Cook until pasta is just shy of al dente and retains a small chalky core.
Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add garlic and shallot and cook, stirring constantly, until softened but not browned (lower heat if the aromatics threaten to brown), about 2 minutes. Add Calabrian chili spread and stir until homogeneous. Add sake or wine and cook until liquid is reduced down to less than 2 tablespoons, about 1 minute. Remove pan from heat and set aside until pasta is cooked.
When pasta is cooked, use tongs to transfer the noodles directly from the boiling water to the pan with the garlic/oil mixture. Scrape uni purée into pan and add a few ounces of starchy pasta-cooking water. Set pan over high heat and cook, stirring and swirling constantly, until the sauce comes together and develops a creamy consistency and the pasta is fully cooked, about 1 minute. Add more pasta water as necessary to thin the sauce if it over-thickens. Season to taste with salt and black pepper.
Divide pasta between warmed serving bowls, drizzle each portion with more extra-virgin olive oil, garnish each with a whole sea urchin tongue, sprinkle with minced chives, and serve.
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