If there were an “it” ingredient from the past few years, it has got to be uni, or sea urchin roe. This mustard-color and delicate substance from a prickly shell is sought after for its creamy texture. The briny flavor of the sea is just an added plus.
Definitely a popular item at the sushi bars, uni has also shown up in several Bay Area restaurants as the city’s chefs have incorporated the ingredient into creative dishes such as pastas, custard, and soups. To me, the texture reminds a bit like monkfish liver (also another popular sushi selection) and the briny flavor is akin to mussels.
I decided to make a dish using uni, but it looks like I’m not the only one with uni on my mind. I found recipes here and here and here. And, unfortunately, the uni’s popularity (just like toro, or tuna belly) has caused an over-fishing of the sea urchin, according to this recent blog post. That’s why it’s important to know where your uni is coming from (several Bay Area restaurants get their uni from sustainable farms along the coast).
I got my uni from the Nijiya market in Japantown, but I neglected to ask where it came from. But I will next time, because I want to keep on enjoying this creamy roe for many years to come.
Along with the uni, I dressed up the dish with tobiko (mostly for its bright orange color) and a type of shiso I found at the market called “ooba” or “aojiso.” Enjoy!
Uni Pasta with Tobiko and Ooba
Makes two servings
2 oz. fresh uni (sea urchin roe) (sold by the tray at Nijiya market, about 9 pieces)
4 T unsalted butter, room temperature
3 oz. dried pasta (either thick spaghetti or bucatini)
1 T Ooba or shiso leaves, chiffonade (reserve one for garnish)
1 T tobiko (flying fish roe)
1/4 cup shrimp stock* (or fish stock)
Boil a pot of water to cook your pasta per packaging instructions. Don’t forget to salt your water, like it’s the Mediterranean sea. It’s best to time the pasta so it’s done just when the uni sauce is ready. (It’s really quick to make the uni sauce so start cooking your pasta first then work on the uni.)
When the butter is soft after leaving it at room temperature, add the uni and mush together with a fork, leaving some uni pieces visible. In a saucepan, heat the shrimp stock over medium heat until the stock has reduced to a thin layer. (About 5 minutes.) Then blend in the uni butter mixture, stirring quickly until the butter has melted. Remove pan from heat and add the cooked pasta with some pasta water and toss in sauce and shiso to let the uni sauce coat the pasta. (TIP: the uni can dry out fast when heated, so add a bit of pasta water to retain the creamy texture. If it’s still dry after plated, drizzle with a bit of extra virgin olive oil.)
Plate the pasta and garnish by sprinkling tobiko strategically throughout the plate. Rip the one shiso leaf you set aside into tiny pieces for garnish. Serve immediately.
*I made my shrimp stock by saving up a bunch of shrimp shells in the freezer, then when I got enough (a full gallon freezer bag will do) then I boiled it in a pot of water with an onion, carrot stick, tomato, garlic clove, and a few peppercorns. (Cook for about 20 minutes.) Then strained through a sieve or strainer.
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