What it is: Uni, or sea urchin, is a small creature with a spiny shell. It is the orange roe within the urchin that is edible and considered a delicacy, especially in Japanese cuisine. Uni has a delicate, sweet sea flavor and a meltingly soft texture. It must be served impeccably fresh—uni past its prime takes on an unpleasant flavor that’s not easy to forget.
How I discovered it: I first tried uni back in my high school days at a touristy Japanese restaurant, and the uni wasn’t particularly fresh. It was a couple of years before I sampled it again, and this time I fell hard. The sweet meat is now one of my favorite things to order, especially the sublime uni spaghetti dish at Anchovies & Olives. The uni melted with the pasta and made the most luscious sauce, and since the restaurant frequently changes its menu, I’ve resorted to making it at home whenever I have a craving.
How to use it in the kitchen: While the Japanese typically eat uni raw as sashimi or over sushi rice wrapped in nori as nigiri, uni can also be enjoyed in soufflés, in hollandaise sauces, paired with egg dishes or simply dressed with a little lemon juice. Try Lorna's creamy uni pasta recipe.
Where to find it: Uwajimaya sells trays of uni in its refrigerated sushi case ($16.99; International District, 600 Fifth Ave. S, Suite 100; 206.624.6248; uwajimaya.com).