Credit: Earl Carter

Sea urchin with cultured butter and toast

David Moyle is a chef. He is a food editor of The Saturday Paper.

Credit: Earl Carter

Sea urchin can be one of the best things you can eat or one of the worst things, depending on the day. The handling is so important. They go from being sweet and tasting like the ocean to tasting like, for want of a better term, cat food.

If you open up a sea urchin, it’s probably 40 per cent liquid. As soon as it dies, it starts to break down. The section we eat is the gonads. It’s probably the only animal where we exclusively eat the genitals. I did briefly serve goat testicles as a single-serve item – they lasted for three weeks until we ran out. One bloke came back twice. They were good balls.

In Tasmania, there are two types of sea urchin: a long spine and a short spine. The long spine has been introduced, but they are more prolific and less affected by season. I prefer the short spine – it’s smaller and sweeter but more inconsistent. In high numbers, both can have a fairly negative effect on kelp forest, and most of the ones we eat are a bycatch from abalone divers.

I treat sea urchins as you would an oyster. One or two portions at the beginning of a meal is one of the best ways to begin an evening. The warm buttered toast is a lovely complement.

There are two ways to prepare a sea urchin. You can cut around the top with scissors. The other way is to push two spoons into the mouth of the sea urchin and break it open like an egg. Much like caviar, you should try not to touch the tongue with metal, as this taints it. As soon as you break one cell, the rest follow. I use wooden implements and find this works well.

Drinks pairing:

2017 Terada Honke Daigo no Shizuku sake, Japan ($75) – Mike Bennie, wine and drinks journalist.


Serves 4

  • 60g salt
  • 1 litre ice-cold water
  • 4 sea urchins
  • 4 slabs of sourdough bread (10cm x 2cm x 2cm)
  • 80g cultured butter
  • salt to finish
  1. Dissolve the 60 grams of salt into the water to produce a brine for dipping and setting the sea urchin tongues once removed from their shells.
  2. Break open the sea urchin using the spoon technique at first, to familiarise yourself with the unique structure, before attempting the other technique of cutting the top open with scissors. I actually find the spoon method can be effective enough without too much attrition.
  3. Using flat wooden chopsticks or, ideally, tweezers, remove the yellow–orange urchin tongues and dip them into the brine. Swish them through the liquid to remove any impurities, then place them onto a damp cloth for storage.
  4. Grill the sourdough over coals or fire until the toast gets a slight char, then lavish the butter onto one side. Place two tongues (if using short-spine urchins) per piece of toast before finishing with flake salt. A pickle or two served on the side would most definitely not go astray

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on August 4, 2018 as "Spine thrilling".

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