Sea Urchin

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

  • About

sea urchin the common name for a sea creature (of the class Echinoidea) which provides the least amount of edible material for its volume; but that small part is a great delicacy.

The sea urchin looks like a small hedgehog, with spines sticking out in all directions from its ‘shell’ (correctly, ‘test’). These spines break off easily and are very difficult to extract from, for example, the foot of an incautious bather. Their purpose is to make their owner an unattractive mouthful for predators.

Inside the more or less spherical test there is little edible matter: in fact nothing but the five orange or rose-coloured ovaries, also known as corals. These are revealed by cutting the sea urchin open horizontally, preferably using the French implement designed for the purpose and called coupe-oursin, the French name for sea urchin being oursin. The corals, which need no cooking, make a delicious mouthful, with no accompaniment save a drop of lemon juice. They can, however, be incorporated in certain cooked dishes, for example an omelette or scrambled eggs, and can also be used to make an excellent sauce.