MacPhail

The Oban Times - - NEWS - AN­GUS MACPHAIL an­gus­[email protected]­hoo.co.uk

As a change from my planned ex­ten­sion of last week’s ar­ti­cle, I’m tak­ing a tack off piste to ex­tol the virtues of a culi­nary de­light I en­joyed for the first time at the week­end. It was an ex­pe­ri­ence I had to brace my­self for as it was not in the usual range of items I would vol­un­tar­ily swal­low.

The hum­ble sea urchin is an ocean crea­ture that’s been fa­mil­iar to me all my life but not un­til last week­end did I ever con­sider eat­ing any part of one.

We had to do some on­line re­search to make sure we were eat­ing the right bits and it did not whet my ap­petite at all to read that the parts to be con­sumed were in fact the go­nads of this poor crea­ture.

How­ever, un­like the im­me­di­ate im­age con­jured by my im­ma­ture mind and the com­mon slang use of the word ‘go­nads’, in an anatom­i­cal sense this just means any re­pro­duc­tive or­gan and there­fore like the roe, melt or coral of many fish or shell­fish which we eat reg­u­larly, such as scal­lop, cod or her­ring. What was to be eaten were thank­fully not akin to those of land liv­ing mam­mals and were much more palat­able than what im­me­di­ately came to mind when read­ing the de­scrip­tion.

I am gen­er­ally not keen on eat­ing fish or shell­fish raw ex­cept for oys­ters and oc­ca­sion­ally scal­lops if they are just out the sea but, ac­cord­ing to all the on­line sources we looked at, this was how best to con­sume the sea urchin. This one had come out the sea only a few hours be­fore and was caught in the clear waters south of Gunna Sound, so at least we knew it was fresh and from a good home.

Af­ter hav­ing chopped the spiky shelled beast in two, we care­fully found and ex­tracted all the right bits and placed them on a plate ready for eat­ing. The light yel­low, slightly slimy mush did not look at­trac­tive and at this stage I al­most cer­tainly would have chick­ened out had it not been for my much more gas­tro­nom­i­cally ad­ven­tur­ous wife, whose idea it had been to take the sea urchin home to try it when my brother pulled it out one of his creels to show her.

Si­mul­ta­ne­ously, we both took a spoon and the taste was a to­tal sur­prise. As ex­pected, it was slightly salty but cou­pled with that sea-like ef­fect was a deep sweet­ness that made it al­most fruity. It was like eat­ing a com­bi­na­tion of sweet pear, cream and oys­ter to­gether with a sur­pris­ingly sat­is­fy­ing and pleas­ant over­all ef­fect. The rest was soon eaten and very much savoured.

We were happy to move on to the much more fa­mil­iar main course of crab claws and lob­ster af­ter that, also taken home from the same very en­joy­able short trip out.

While re­search­ing how to pre­pare the sea urchin, I read that it was a New Year tra­di­tion in Ja­pan to ex­change them as gifts as part of the fes­tive cel­e­bra­tions and that made the eat­ing of them at the start of the year all the more fit­ting.

Bli­adhna Mhath Ur Ia­panach dhuibh uile!

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