Sea Urchin Roe in Amber

Uni no Kanten

Fresh sea urchin roe is a costly delicacy in Japan and most often adorns individual nuggets of sushi. Here, chunks of the roe are suspended in an amber-colored aspic to make a more economical yet equally delicious appetizer. For those who love the delicate, briny taste of sea urchin, these jewel-like pieces make a spectacular addition to any tray of hors d’oeuvres.

The classic recipe in Japan calls for kanten (agar-agar), which is processed from sea vegetables, not animal protein, and jells more firmly than conventional gelatin. For those who prefer a softer texture, 1 envelope (2 teaspoons) of ordinary gelatin is a fine substitute.

Ingredients

  • 1 stick kanten (Japanese agar-agar gelatin), or 1 envelope (4 grams) powdered kanten
  • 1 cup Tosa dashi (smoky sea stock)
  • 2 tablespoons saké (Japanese rice wine)
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 4 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
  • 2-3 pieces (about 1 ounce) uni (sea urchin roe)

Method

  1. Break the stick of kanten into several pieces and soak them in cold water to cover for at least 10 minutes. If you are using powdered kanten, sprinkle it over 2 tablespoons cold water and let it stand for at least 5 minutes before you use it.
  2. In a saucepan, combine the smoky sea stock, rice wine, sugar, and soy sauce. Bring to a simmer and cook for 2 minutes. Add water if necessary to make cups liquid.
  3. Squeeze out all the water from the pieces of kanten, and with your hands shred the softened mass into the saucepan containing the seasoned stock. Or add the softened powdered kanten. Cook the mixture over low heat, stirring constantly, until the kanten dissolves completely (this could take as long as 10 minutes). Simmer for 2-3 minutes longer.
  4. Pour a few drops of the liquid kanten into the bottom of thirty-six small ruffly foil cups (about ¾-inch diameter). It will jell quickly, so immediately sprinkle a few bits of chive in each cup, before the kanten sets.
  5. Cut the sea urchin roe into thirty-six chunks, each less than ½ inch. Place a single piece in each of the kanten-filled cups. Sprinkle the top of each piece of roe with some more of the chives. Carefully ladle in the remaining amber-colored liquid (if it has jelled, reheat slowly to dissolve), to fill each cup close to the brim. If any bubbles have formed, drag them to the sides of the foil cup with the tip of a toothpick, either lancing the bubbles or pulling them up the sides of the foil. The aspic will harden quickly without chilling, though refrigeration will hasten this along. Once all steam is gone and the aspic is firm, cover and chill for at least 1 hour, or up to 4 days.
  6. Serve the roe-in-amber either in the original foil cups, or peel the cups away and invert.

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