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Sea Urchin, Vanilla, Chili, Mint

By August 2, 2009Cooking

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I decided on a whim to try this one two days ago. It looked fairly simple, and the photo in the book is gorgeous. The dish is basically kina (sea urchin) roe encased in vanilla/mint gelee, topped with chili and mint. For as hard as most ingredients can be to find in New Zealand, sea urchin roe is not one of them. I can run down to the market in town and pick up a pot of it for $15, which is enough to last for many meals. Sarah and I also got our divers’ licenses last November, and have spotted kina on several dives since. Pick them up and chuck them in a dive bag, and when you get back to the beach you can crack them open and eat them right there. Fresh kina and scallops out of the harbour here are among the most amazing things I’ve ever tasted.

There’s one downside to this dish: I hate Jello. It freaks me right out, and there’s nothing I enjoy about the texture. I hate gummy bears and worms for a similar reason, but Jello specifically is something I steer clear of. I was willing to set that aside for this dish though, in the name of science!

One notable thing to point out is that the photo in the book is crystal clear, a bright orange hunk of kina encased in glassy gelatin. Mine wasn’t nearly as pretty, mainly because sea urchin is messy. It’s extremely delicate, so even the slightest jar causes it to seep orange liquid, which clouds up the clear gelatin immediately. I was working fast when I made these and didn’t pay quite the attention I should have to being extremely careful with the kina. As a result my portions lack a bit of the clarity Chef Achatz’ do, and were I to make this again I’d work more carefully.

As it stands though, my gelatin aversion stands strong. The flavor of the gelee is delicious, a mild mint and vanilla flavor, and the bite of the sea urchin cuts through as the piece breaks down in my mouth. The chili slice I had wasn’t enough to add any heat, which was a bit of a shame as I was looking for that. But I just couldn’t get over the texture. It’s just not for me. I think it probably didn’t help that I watched Brazil last night, and was thinking of the shot at the end where Sam knocks over the casket of his mom and the jello-and-bone remains fall out (it’s more a funny shot than a gory one).

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