British Columbia

Sea urchin, or uni, is a popular B.C. delicacy — but not in B.C.

If you're fishing around for a unique culinary treat, a fish shop owner says to consider sea urchin. B.C.'s North Coast produces a lot of sea urchin, but despite that, it's Japan, not B.C., where it's considered a delicacy.

Fish shop owner says the best way to eat a live sea urchin is to hack it open and eat the flesh raw

Vancouver's Blue Water Cafe served sea urchin mousse with squid crackers as a special last year. (Lisa Christiansen)

As the weather turns colder, some of the most prized sea urchin in the world is being caught right now off the coast of B.C.

The spiny creatures are treasured in Japan, where Canada will export much of the haul. There, sea urchin is called "uni," and is considered a delicacy.

"The thing with buying live sea urchin is you never know what's inside," said Jenice Yu, owner of Fresh Ideas Start Here fish shop in Burnaby. "That's why we try and pick the best boats with the best divers who know where to pick these sea urchins."

Sea urchin, in their shell, retrieved by divers on B.C.'s North Coast, near Prince Rupert. (Elaine Chau/CBC)

Yu says that since sea urchins eat things that fall to the bottom of the sea, harvesters need to look for them in the right environments, with rich reefs and the proper minerals and nutrients. B.C.'s North Coast is a prime spot for sea urchin.

So why isn't it more popular here? Yu has some thoughts.

"I do admit that sea urchin is definitely an acquired taste, but I find that people have bad experiences with it because they've had bad uni in the past," she said. "Good uni is hard to find. You want to find them at their freshest and you want to find someone who knows how to process them."

"Once you taste it, it's really, really good and nice and fresh."

Sea urchin, or uni, plated with ikura (salmon roe) after sitting in brine overnight — a classic pairing in Japan. (Elaine Chau/CBC)

There are lots of different ways to eat sea urchin, Yu says, but she says her favourite way to eat them is to just crack them open and eat the meat raw.

All it takes is a set of clamps, kitchen shears or even a pair of spoons to get them open.

Just make sure you're wearing gloves.

Jenice Yu, owner of Fresh Ideas Start Here in Burnaby, has been eating sea urchin since she was 3! (Elaine Chau/CBC)

To hear the full story, click on the audio labelled: B.C. sea urchin 'an acquired taste,' but popular in Japan

With files from Elaine Chau

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