Raw, Sumptuous Sea Urchin

The Greek tradition that reveres the sea urchin as an exquisite delicacy has endured the pressures of time, surviving centuries of foreign invasions and occupations, and still reigning the banquet table.

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"Sea urchins are a menace to bathers all over the Mediterranean. They cluster by the dozen in shallow waters, stick to rocks, and anyone who has ever stepped on one with a bare foot, knows how painful and tedious a business it is to pluck their sharp little spines from the skin," writes renown author Elizabeth David. Although she is most certainly correct, the animal has been enjoyed as a delicacy by inhabitants of the Greek peninsula for over three millenia.

Prehistoric archeological evidence, like the remains at Akrotiri in Crete, indicates that our Neolithic ancestors enjoyed sea urchins. Similarly, excavations that date back to Classical Greece  underscore the importance of sea urchins within the region’s cuisine. The historian Deipnosophists notes the food’s frequent appearance on banquet menus, while Athenaeus' describes a specific incident: “(The Spartan) did not know how this food was eaten and did not notice how his fellow diners handled it. So he put it in his mouth, shell and all, and cracked it (the tough and thorny surface) with his teeth, then exclaimed, ‘Pestiferous dish! I'm not going to weaken and let you go but I'll take no more of your kind!’”

Although millenia have come and gone, the tradition that esteems sea urchin as a delicacy endures. Today, the cooks of Modern Greece prepare the sea urchin most commonly as an appetizer, removing the animal from its shell and serving it raw with a sprinkling of lemon juice. Within this globalizing age, the dish is internationally considered to be a gourmet marine speciality.

How to Eat a Sea Urchin:
Eating a sea urchin is simple. Once you've plucked it (it is advisable to wear gloves), cut around the bottom or "mouth" side of the shell with a pair of scissors, or break a circular section loose with a knife and shake out the messy viscera. Underneath and firmly attached to the topside of the shell is the coral-colored roe, which can be scooped out with a spoon or with a piece of bread. Squirt the roe with lemon. Sea urchins are best eaten within sight and sound of the sea, and washed down with chilled white wine. Although urchins are most commonly enjoyed raw by the Greeks, there are myriad ways to cook an urchin.

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