In a world filled with mechanically separated, hormone injected, preservative added, genetically modified foods, few things take you back to the basics of flavor like Sea Urchin. One of the few remaining delicacies that must be harvested from the wild, Sea Urchin, also known as Ricci Di Mar, Erizo De Mar and Uni, has been an indulgence for most of the world for centuries, but it has more recently started developing a cult following here in the US.
Chefs are experimenting with it, patrons are looking for it on menus and some folks even adjust their vacation schedules to seek it out - What? I had some free time on the last day of a recent trip to San Diego. With a little research I was able to find a small seafood company called Poppa’s Fresh Fish that was serving these yummy porcupines of the sea at local farmers markets (Weekly Schedule). I couldn’t resist.
I made my way to the Hillcrest Farmers Market at 9:00AM on a Sunday morning ready to experience the delights of tasting live hand-caught-by-divers-that-morning Sea Urchin! The owner and Sea Urchin Ninja, Mark Lane, was very gracious and showed me the ropes. After picking out a good looking specimen, Mark’s assistant expertly cracked it open, washed it out with water and placed it on a plate. Mark handed me a spoon and with a curious face waited for my reaction.
As soon as I took the first bite I knew this was something truly spectacular. Sea Urchin is a hard flavor to describe. The only way I can explain it, is that it’s a flavor train with many stops along the way, so just enjoy the ride. Admit it you said Choo-Choo in your head, didn’t you? The taste of Sea Urchin transitions as you eat it and no two will be exactly the same. It starts off like a slightly salty custard or mousse, but quickly transitions to a sweet-creamy-rich sea butter flavor and finishes off with a hint of nuttiness at the end. Gonads have never tasted so good! Oh wait… did I forget to mention that? Sorry, never mind what I just said and enjoy it!
**Just as a fair warning, the texture can take a little getting used to if it’s your first time. So, you may need a few attempts before you’ll truly enjoy the flavors. Lastly, make sure it’s absolutely fresh, none of that prepackaged stuff you get on $1 sushi night.
Sea Urchin Ceviche
If you want to give Sea Urchin a try, but you don’t want to jump head first into the Uni deep end, you might want to give Poppa’s famous Sea Urchin Ceviche a try. I have to be honest, I was much too busy stuffing my face to ask what exactly was in it, but who cares! The mixture of fresh ingredients disguise the texture and the taste is off the charts delicious!
Jumbo Scallop Lollipop
But wait, there’s more! Just when I thought Mark was all out of tricks, he pull’s an Ace out from under his sleeve. He mentioned his own creation and personal favorite, the Jumbo Scallop Lollipop. Honestly, if you put any good food on a stick, I’ll give it a go I watched as he expertly used his gas burner to saute the scallop in magic butter. After a few minutes, the scallop was cooked to perfection and to be honest, I would have been perfectly happy eating it just the way it was. But, Mark took it to new heights by drizzling Smoked Applewood Caramel Sauce from Praline Patisserie on top. Yes, it tasted as amazing as it sounds and possibly one of the best things I have ever eaten. I mean come on! Just look at the picture, no further descriptive adjectives needed.
Oh! Did I mention that everything is very reasonably priced? The Sea Urchin was only $10 (Cracked, cleaned and ready to eat). The Ceviche was $11 and the Jumbo Scallop Lollipops were only $3 each. If you are there between 9-10 am Oysters are only $1.25!
Lastly, if you’re traveling with others that are not too adventurous, don’t worry. The menu is full of options for seafood traditionalists as well. Aside from being able to buy all of the fresh fish your heart desires, Poppa’s has fresh oysters, clams, mussels, award winning fish tacos, grilled fish and even lobster. If you have a seafood craving, Poppa’s has you covered.
I truly love finding places like Poppa’s Fresh Fish where ever I go. Hard working and passionate people like Mark truly embody what this new food movement is all about and I will go to the ends of the earth to support it. You’ve heard of “Farm to Table.” Well, I’m jumping on the “Sea to Belly” bandwagon :). So, the next time you’re in the San Diego area, make sure you stop by and visit the Sea Urchin Ninja himself to see what fresh delicacies he has to offer. I know you won’t be disappointed.
Follow FBT on Twitter @FoodiesBTrippin
Poppa’s Fresh Fish Company – San Diego Various Locations