Purple sea urchins (uni) are currently swarming on the west coast, from San Francisco all the way up to northern Washington. According to a recent AP article, millions of the spiky, squat spheroids have decimated kelp beds and left delicate coastal ecosystems denuded and in risk of collapse.
We don’t need much of an excuse to eat urchin roe, so we drove down to Humboldt County to forage what uni we could and help save the west coast.
We timed our visit to coincide with the new moon/spring tide, and used Google Maps to select Baker Beach as a likely hunting ground. Here’s what happened when we got there:
(click for larger images)
Baker Beach has easy access to rocky sections.
On the ocean side of some large rocks we found our old friends, gooseneck barnacles.
This odd lump is a chiton…
…which is apparently edible, but the tiny amount of meat on them is very tough.
“I should have been a pair of ragged claws scuttling across the floors of silent seas.”
We didn’t invite little Prufrock to our party.
Out on the tide-exposed rocks we found our spiny prey.
Urchins like to jam themselves into crevices to elude predators.
We came well equipped, with grabbers and scrapers.
Aya chose her sweater to match. She thinks of things like that.
After much cleaning and prepping, we feasted.
Washed in white wine, the raw uni roe sits atop hot rice and salty nori.
And we couldn’t help but invite some goosenecks to the party. Always a special treat.
Next time we will take our snorkels and wet-suits and go out to deeper water to gather the big fat ones from the ocean floor.
Gooseneck barnacles are so ugly it’s hard to think of them as food. We’ve heard that in Spain and Portugal, percebes can cost up to $200 per kilo at restaurants. If people are spending that much to have them with a glass of Sherry, they must be pretty special.
On a recent trip to the far side of Vancouver Island we spotted some on the rocks at low tide and took the opportunity to see what the fuss was all about.
A very low tide gave access to rocks that are usually out of reach.
Gooseneck barnacles compete with the mussels for space.
Because they are filter feeders, they prefer turbulent waters. The biggest ones grow on the far, ocean-facing side of the rocks.
The big Pacific waves help the muscle grow fat and long.
A sampling of seafood from the rocks.
Hard to believe that inside these dinosaur-like heads and leathery bodies hides incredibly tender flesh with a flavour something like shrimp crossed with scallops.