I wanted to create a unique entree that really brought forth the flavors of the sea without involving any fish. Fellow food bloggers spoke highly of the Maccheroni Alla Chitarra with Sea Urchin and Crabmeat pasta dish at Esca. This was a Mario Batali specialty starring sea urchin (uni in Japanese) – I just had to make it.

Now uni isn’t for everyone. I had only tried it raw in the past served on beds of slightly warm sushi rice wrapped in nori seaweed. How to best describe this little sea creature? Sea urchins are small, round creatures with spiny shells to protect against predators. Imagine tiny round hedgehogs roaming the ocean beds. Go beyond the spiny exterior to reveal the sweet, buttery, orange tongue-like meat inside. The meat we eat is actually the sex organ harvested from these spiky sea creatures. Sounds delicious, no?

I found a great recipe on Zen Can Cook that combines pasta with sea urchin and langoustines a la Esca. For instructions on how to make the real home-made langoustine broth, check out the original recipe. I took the easy way out and used seafood broth instead. Lobster broth is also a great alternative! I also substituted shrimp for the crab meat/langoustines (couldn’t find those darn suckers anywhere in Chinatown that day!)

Ingredients:

  • 10 large shrimp
  • 1/2 lb linguine
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Parsley (optional garnish)

For the pasta sauce:

  • 4 oz fresh sea urchin (uni)
  • 2 tbsp butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup seafood or lobster broth
    Salt

Instructions:

1) Wash, peel, and devein the shrimp. Season with a little salt and pepper.

2) Place the sea urchin, softened butter, and pinch of salt in a bowl. Mix this in a food processor until smooth. You can also mix by hand.

3) Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add the linguine and cook to al dente based on the instructions on the box. Drain.

4) While the pasta is cooking, heat some olive oil in a large skillet. Add the shrimp in a single layer and cook about a minute. Flip the shrimp over and cook for another minute. The meat will be opaque throughout when done.

5) Bring the half cup of broth to a boil in a large pan. Turn the heat to low and whisk in the sea urchin mixture until smooth. This results in a very creamy sauce. You can use some of the pasta cooking water to adjust the thickness as desired.

6) Plate the pasta and add the cooked shrimp. Pour the sea urchin sauce over the pasta. Season with additional salt and pepper. I sprinkled some parsley on top to add additional color to the dish. Enjoy!

The incredibly smooth, creamy uni pasta sauce with just a hint of the sea went really well with the linguine. Trust me when I say we savored every last bite of that saucy goodness. Seafood night was a success!

I tried the actual pasta dish at Esca shortly after – such fantastic flavors coming together in my mouth! The creamy, rich sauce oozes perfectly into the coarse texture of the pasta alla chitarra. Must try my home-made version with crab meat next time!

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