Saving California from Purple Sea Urchins

California’s beautiful northern coast is currently under attack by purple sea urchins.
We came to save it.

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)

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.

West Coast Truffle Hunt

Winter is truffle season in Oregon, so the weather can be tricky to plan around. We have been trying to arrange a hunt for a few years but have been foiled by soaking wet or snow-covered ground. This year things came together and we hired a wonderful guide, James, and his lovely truffle dog, Augie (click for larger images).

Because the fruiting bodies of truffles are all underground, it was quite a different style of mushroom hunting than what we’re used to. Rather than looking around for splashes of colour or tell-tale signs of mushrooms, we just followed Augie and watched as he bashed around happily in the woods. Augie is a Lagotto Romagnolo,  so he’s born to hunt, swim, and retrieve, but he has also been trained from a young age to find truffles, and he’s really good at it. Never mind that they’re all 20-30 cm underground, he can smell them out and is quick to dig.  As the dirt flies, James gets ready to distract Augie with a treat in one hand and to snatch up the truffle with the other. Although he prefers treats to truffles, Augie still managed to gobble a few of the precious things.

You can hire James and Augie for your own truffle hunt via their website: Terra-Fleurs.

Watch Augie do his thing:

Truffles don’t have much flavour, and the texture is firm and a little crumbly, like a raw mushroom cap. It’s best to slice them raw, as thinly as possible onto hot, fatty food to make the most of the intense aroma. The aromatic compounds are oil-soluble, so they’ll infuse fats with their wonderful scent. We put a wheel of Brie in with our truffles for a few days and it came out smelling strongly of truffles. We have heard people do the same with eggs and blocks of butter.

The scent of white truffles is difficult to describe; it’s wonderfully earthy, richly herbal and has high notes of spicy garlic. The black ones are also earthy with a sweetly sweaty character. They smell strongly of dark chocolate and have a distinct pineapple fruitiness. James says he can’t leave his truffles open and exposed to air on the drive home because the smell in the car just becomes overpowering.

Here’s what we did with some of our truffles (click for larger images):