Most urchin is shucked at the source and carefully lined up on small wooden trays with plastic lids before being shipped around the world. Unfortunately this never improves the quality of the urchin and even the most elaborate packaging can do little to protect the delicate roe. Some rare urchin from Japan is packed in sea water, which seems to be the best method for transporting the fragile product.
You rarely see fresh urchins available for sale. This is due largely to the difficulty required in cleaning them. I prefer getting in the live urchin and cleaning them because there is simply no comparison in quality. There are several methods for cleaning urchins and even a couple of special tools designed for the job, but all you really need is a small serrated knife and spoon.
1. Pick heavy urchins with the spines still firmly attached. (these spines can be painful, but are not poisonous)
2. Wearing gloves, hold the urchin in a towel with the domed side of the shell facing outward.
3. Using the serrated knife cut away the curved portion of the shell, avoid cutting into the roe just below the shell.
4. Chip away the shell to expose the five orange gonads.
5. Use a small spoon to gently loosen the gonads from their membrane.
6. Shake the roe into a container filled with salted water. (water and sea salt)
7. Transfer the roe into another container with salted water and repeat until water is clear and no fragments of spine are left.
Tonight we are pairing hand harvested sea urchin with Nantucket Bay scallops. I used a classic Japanese custard, Chawanmushi, for inspiration. My preparation does not have the traditional ingredients, Lily root and ginkgo nut, but is simply an egg custard made with fresh dashi and sea urchin. I finish the custard with togarashi and young red shiso leaves. The bay scallops are served lightly seared and raw with shaved matsutake mushroom and candied yuzu rind.