Sea Urchins: An Aphrodisiac I’ll Stay Away From

This is an article I originally wrote for Xpress Magazine all about sea urchin, more commonly known as Uni, it’s history as an aphrodisiac, and my experiences with it.

I hope you enjoy!

Forget chocolate covered strawberries, champagne, and oysters the next time love, or lust, is in the air – there’s a new aphrodisiac in town. Well, maybe not so new, more so under represented as such.

Sea Urchin, or Uni, has been used to inspire desire for centuries. Considering the part that’s eaten is in fact the sex glands of the urchin, it’s not surprising the effects carry over.

It is certainly not hard to believe that the art of seduction has been on the brain since, well, pretty much the beginning of time. The term aphrodisiac is derived from the Greek goddess of love and sexuality, Aphrodite. Over the years various outlandish items have been proclaimed to be the best in putting love seekers in the mood. In ancient days, starfish, dried human marrow, and menstrual blood were the hottest on the market. Later it was a drink that contained gold – perhaps that’s where Goldschläger got the idea. The list goes on with Uni being introduced only a few hundred years ago.

Despite the fact that it is a popular ingredient in many Japanese and Mediterranean dishes, this spiny fellow is extremely hard to track down in the city. A cashier at one of the Asian fish markets in the Sunset scoffs when she says, “That’s a Japanese thing.” Duly noted; they are a bit more accessible in Japantown, though at a steep price – expect to pay five dollars for one urchin, which may not seem too bad until considering that one urchin only yields five “steaks” the size of a chubby pinky finger.

“Sea Urchins have been established as an Asian dish with status because it’s a little pricey,” says Kai Chen, a waiter at All Season Sushi in the Castro.

If sex is still on the brain after shelling out about twenty dollars to get enough meat for two lovers to indulge in, then cracking them open is the next step. With a sharp pair of scissors and determination, cutting the bottom off the urchin is not a big deal, unless they are still alive. As soon as the scissors pierce their shell their spines go wild, moving faster than expected and elevating the threat of getting poked. Even after severing them into two separate pieces they still move with a vengeance. Running them under hot water should do the trick in finally sending them to a watery grave.

Now take a look at the half of the urchin with the meat, this is supposed to subconsciously put one in the mood because it should be reminiscent of the female sex organ. Consciously though, it looks like a massacred shell with orange colored meat lining. It may only look like female lady parts in an extremely abstract, not literal sense – that’s for sure. And that smell; once the shell has been punctured get ready for a pungent salt-tinged liquid to come streaming out into, hopefully, the sink.

The taste is at best, acquired. Though the texture is smooth and creamy, the flavor could be compared to what the bottom of the San Francisco Bay would taste like if licked. There is an inexplicable briny flavor to it, a deep bottom of the ocean flavor that to some may be enjoyable, but to others extremely off-putting.

Here the roe has been strained out to incorporate into a cream sauce

After a memorable experience a few years ago, sushi lover Lindsay Mayott has made a point to never let Uni touch her lips again. She’s not buying the hype that has surrounded sea urchin.

“It may be a delicacy, but there is nothing delicate about the taste,” says Mayott, 26, as she wrinkles her nose. “The texture reminds me of that goo toy from the ‘90’s ‘Nickelodeon Gak,’ basically it’s like eating someone else’s boogers.”

So after all this, what makes it an ingredient associated with increased sexual ability?

“Sea urchin is a dish that someone will order again and again because it’s an aphrodisiac,” Chen, 33, elaborates. “Not only that but its exotic and nutritious.”

The fundamental problem with aphrodisiacs is that there is little proof to back it up.  However, broken down, at the very least these little guys pack quite the nutritional punch with their high levels of vitamins A, B1, B2, D, E, zinc, and antioxidants and it is these vitamins that help encourage sexual activity, especially when used in conjunction. Each vitamin serves a part to create an extra memorable sexual experience, vitamin E promotes increased blood flow throughout your body and is needed for optimum endurance and stamina; vitamin B helps turn carbohydrates into the energy essential for prosperous sexual activity; vitamin A, and E for that matter, are antioxidants which fight off the free radicals that cause sexual dysfunction in men and some women; lastly increased levels of zinc in the body boosts concentration and sex drive. All of these vitamins in just a little sea urchin steak. Plus, as mentioned before, the visual look of it should keep the brain fixated on what’s to come after the dishes have been cleared.

Chen laughs as he looks around the restaurant as he says, “I’ll have to pay attention to new lovers who try Uni and then come back for more.”

RAW Food Challenge Day 7

Hi all!

I am so sorry this is a day late, yesterday just got away from me!

But my last day went so very well!

I am happy to report that I survived this long week of raw food!

So, what did I eat on my final day?

Breakfast: Overnight Oats with Blueberries, Almond Flour, Spices, and Honey

I decided to start (in a sense) where I began, with some overnight oats. Remember Day 1 where I made overnight oats with chia seeds, apple, spices, and agave nectar? I thought it would be rather poetic of me to come full circle and do a variation of that.

Blueberries and Almond Flour sounded like a nice combo, and so it was

I pulled some Almond Milk Overnight Oats out and loaded them up with the goods

1 cup Overnight Oats

1 cup Almond Milk

1/3 cup Almond Flour

1/2 cup Blueberries

1 tsp Raw Honey

1/2 tsp Cinnamon

1/2 tsp All-Spice

Tiny wedge of Lemon, optional

This breakfast was another one of my favorites, and it was kind of inspired by a blueberry crumble almost. It really was perfect.

My man has been eating raw with me for some of my meals and this one was by far his favorite as well, I practically had to pry the bowl out of his hands ’cause he was lovin’ it so much!

Seriously though, I could eat this any day of the week. No question.

Lunch: Cucumber Sandwich with Tahini, Spinach, Sprouts, Tomato, and Dill

I love sandwiches. Truly. If there was one thing I could eat for the rest of my life it would be a sandwich (it was a toss up between a sandwich and a salad). I just think they are the perfect meal since you can put pretty much whatever the heck you want in them and they will still be so wonderful and contained between 2 pieces of bread, or something along those lines.

Think about it. It’s true.

So my lunch was an interpretation of the glorious ‘wich.

I made myself a sandwich alright, but instead of bread, my outside layer was a cucumber.

Inventive, huh?

I took a cucumber, sliced it in half lengthwise and gutted it

Then I took some of my raw homemade Tahini sauce and used that as my spread

I was gonna just lay some whole spinach leaves on top of that, but then I pulled them out of the bundle and they were HUGE! Oh my word, I’m just used to baby spinach ’cause these leaves look massive!

I gave a few leaves a rough chop and that was that.

I added some clover sprouts and sliced cherry tomato on top of that, and of course a nice sprinkling of dill!

I would recommend eating it as an open faced sandwich, since you can’t really squish cucumber to fit in your mouth the way you can with bread!

It was definitely an interesting looking sandwich, that is not only fun and great tasting!

Matt and I enjoyed it on a picnic bench in the back of the Ferry Building while basking in the fair spring weather and watching the Bay after perusing all of the shops inside.

After walking around some more and staring at all the things I couldn’t yet eat, we decided to head out for dinner.

Dinner: Sashimi

Since it was my last night on the raw challenge, Matt and I went to our favorite sushi restaurant. The guys who work here love us. For real. It’s great, every time we go there they hook it up with more free food than we can handle!

It was a little sad having to say no to it all, but sweet boy Matthew got to indulge without me.

I opted for a sashimi plate with Tuna, Mackerel, Salmon, and Red Snapper, I drizzled some fresh lemon juice on top and they were good to go.

I remembered a few bites in that the restaurant would obviously have some nori so I asked for a few sheets of it to make my own rice-less sushi.

Like I said, I’m not the best sushi roller

Usually after sushi I am stuffed (though that stuffed feeling doesn’t last too long since it goes through ya so quickly) but after just the sashimi, I felt great. Full but not on the verge of a food coma.

I was a good girl and cleaned my whole plate!

Matthew was a good boy too and cleaned his plate, but they took it away before I could take a sweet shot of him with it.

It was a long day that ended very well, and overall it was a great week too.

I’m so glad I went raw for a week, it was such an amazing experience that taught me more than I would’ve expected.

More to come on my raw feelings in the next post!

What are your favorite fish to eat as sashimi?

RAW Food Challenge Day 3

Hello hello!

I woke up feeling very energized this morning, I was a good girl and went to bed at 10pm (instead of my usual 2am). It’s amazing what a little extra sleep will do for ya, isn’t it? Oh and I wasn’t even that cold this morning, ’cause I’m a smarty pants and slept with 2 pairs of socks on, a sweatshirt, and 4 blankets! Gosh, it was great!

I got up and noticed it was a little dark in my room. A little background, I have a large 5 sided bay window in my room, and I shut the blinds every night so that the sun doesn’t wake me up, so my room usually is a little dark. I guess what I meant to say was, I noticed my room was a little darker than usual.

I took this photo on a sunnier day

(My comment about my 5 windows and all that sunshine was NOT me complaining! I am blessed, beyond blessed to live where I do. I love my bright windowed room!)

I pull up the blinds and surprise surprise, it had rained last night. Not a big deal, but it gave everything that rainy greyish tint to it, which is not motivating in the morning. I needed to counteract that lazy grey feeling, immediately.

What better way to fight the grey rain than with a tropical breakfast?!

(There is no better way)

Breakfast: Mango Smoothie and Banana Nut Bites

I really liked my smoothie from yesterday, like a lot, a lot a lot. But I’m trying to not repeat recipes until this challenge is over, so I can really highlight just how much can be done if you choose to try or adopt the raw food diet.

I kept the almond milk and the frozen banana and upgraded that peanut butter from yesterday to the very tropical mango!

Sometimes I can really make a mess

If you’re like me, clean up your counter and then start blending your smoothie!

Recipe goes:

2 fresh Mangos

1 frozen Banana

1 1/2 cups of Raw Almond Milk

4 ice cubes, optional (I did this ’cause I only used 1 frozen banana and I like my smoothies cold)

Blend it together for a minute

So bright and sunny! Exactly what I needed!

But, it was lacking protein…so I whipped up some little Banana Nut Bites

Its as easy as 1, 2, 3

1. Slice 1 Banana into bite sized pieces, on the diagonal

2. Spoon a tiny amount of raw Almond Butter onto each slice

3. Pick up each slice and lay it almond butter side down onto raw hulled Hemp Seeds for a second

Flip them back over, put ’em on a plate and you’re ready to go!

All together now!

I know its only Day 3 and I have quite a few more breakfasts ahead of me, but oh my gosh, this might be my favorite! Like most of the stuff I’ve been eating, this really filled me up without giving me a food coma, but the creaminess and richness of the mango, banana and almond butter really left me feeling SO satisfied!

Snack: Kombucha

Breakfast was so filling I never even needed my snack today, so I just drank my Kombucha, today’s flavor was Botanic No 7. I’ve never had it before, it was a little “spicy,” nevertheless tasty.

Lunch: Fruit Salad with a Coconut Lime Puree

The grey weather today was touch and go, so I wanted to continue to ward it off with my tropical theme, I have all this fresh fruit laying around so I started chopping it up to make a fruit salad.

Then I sliced the cantaloupe in half and cleaned out the guts and it hit me

THIS CANTALOUPE WOULD MAKE THE PERFECT FRUIT BOWL!

To fill with all of this good stuff

By the way, look at how closely these grapes grew together!

I don’t know about you guys, but every time I see a coconut I start singing “you put the lime in the coconut and drink a bowl up, you put the lime in the coconut…” (you get it) in my head and sometimes out loud.

There I was hacking at my coconut with the biggest knife I had singing when all of a sudden, another brilliant idea hit me! I should put the lime in the coconut!

Wait, what?

What is this crazy girl talking about?

Well my friends, I was just gonna use the coconut water and meat to make a nice puree to use as dressing, but my subconscious was attempting to and succeeded in steering me in a different direction.

I grabbed a lime out of my fruit bowl, zested that thing SO good and then juiced it!

I also gotta ask, does anyone know an easy and good way to remove coconut meat? My arm was exhausted after scraping just part of one half

I am pretty pumped because when I do finally scrap all the coconut meat out, I will be halfway done constructing a coconut bra. So, someone, please throw a luau.

Back to my lunch

Isn’t it gorgeous?

I used my trusty food processor to blend the coconut water, meat, and lime

This may be the most beautiful shade of green

I scooped some of the puree on top of my fruit, and wouldn’t you know it, I had enough of the water left over to drink!

This was a GREAT lunch! I didn’t take a photo of it, but I sprinkled some sunflower seeds on top for some extra crunch!

Dinner: Vegetable Sushi Two Ways

I had work tonight, so right after I finished lunch I set to work on making my dinner so I could take it with me. I really like the idea of something easy and utensil free to eat at work, since tonight I was working up front, I wanted something I could sneak bites of from under the counter without the hassle of a fork and knife.

What’s easy, utensil free, and raw?

Sushi!

Almost

If you make it without rice

And cooked fish

So, that’s what I did.

I started by making another batch of Pico de Gallo (tomato, red onion, cilantro, lime, salt)

Then I took a piece of Nori and put it on my sushi roller, like I really knew what I was doing

Then I laid a gorgeous piece of red chard on top of that

Scooped a few big spoonfuls of pico de gallo on top of that and smeared it into all the cracks

The rest is history

Then I rolled it and sliced it in half, like so

This roll was bright and complex with all the flavors going on, for real, this thing is packed with flavor, but it lacked a certain richness. Sushi, in general, is only momentarily gratifying since its such a light dish. I decided to make another type of roll to really fill me up.

Avocado seemed like the best way to add some substance to the sushi, since I didn’t have any sashimi lying around!

I didn’t want to just do the typical slices of avocado, I wanted to leave out the pico de gallo on this roll and make the avocado a spread. I must admit, my food processor has never had this much action before, it’s great! I scooped 1 avocado into it and then squeezed the juice of 1 orange in too, because I wanted this roll to still have a citrus brightness that would be absent otherwise since the pico de gallo was the vessel that brought citrus in the last time.

Boy, this was AMAZING! You all will be seeing this pop up in other recipes the rest of this week, as dip, as dressing, you name it.

I repeated the Nori on the sushi roller, laid down a chard leaf and then smeared this ‘cado spread all over it

Red bell pepper, carrot and sesame seeds completed this medley. At the last minute I popped a couple slices of avocado in there, cause I love it so much.

Mmmmmmmm

(Well, I knew this would come out sooner or later…I am not the most expert sushi roller/sushi slicer. Please don’t hate me)

I think I much preferred this wrap since it was smothered and covered in avocado.

Overall, today was good. I got lots of work done and I never felt lethargic or real icky. I will admit, work was a struggle. For those who don’t know, I work in a Brazilian-Italian restaurant as a waitress mostly, but sometimes I work up in the front on the phones and doing take out orders. Hearing all the customers tell me all the things they were gonna eat was hard. Smelling all the wonderful scents wafting out of the kitchen was worse. Much worse. I still have 2 more days of work while I am on this challenge, its gonna be a rough. Wish me luck!

I finally just got home and am drinking my daily allotted cup of tea to warm my soul, and fingers, and toes, and body in general. Goodnight my food lovers, I shall write more to you tomorrow.

See Food (Seafood)/The Cliff House Review

Now as some of you may know as of late, I have been trying to become more acquainted with the creatures of the sea. No, not Ariel and the rest of the gang – though that would be awesome too. I feel like fish is one of those taboo items that has only more recently been accepted into mainstream cuisine.

Growing up, fish was not a main staple around the house. I think the fanciest we got was cooking some Orange Roughy and drowning it in lemon juice. For those of you not aware, Orange Roughy is an extremely mild fish – void of that “fishy” flavor that is a turn off for some.

It wasn’t even until the 7th grade that I tried my first piece of sushi. I remember it well, my tutor took me to a restaurant, Revolving Sushi, after I had gotten an A on a math test. I ordered a safer roll, the Philadelphia Roll – I know, going crazy with some raw salmon and cream cheese.

Since then, I have made a point to get try as much sushi as I can. After trying a lot of the different rolls I must admit that I favor baked rolls or at least a roll with a sauce. Whether this makes me a fake sushi lover I know not, just trying to be honest.

So while these types of rolls are lovely at times, and I certainly make an effort to incorporate them into any sushi feast…

And the sauce on this roll was sooooo good…

Rolls like this are really more my style

Yes, there are actual rolls under there. They are just covered with more fish, smothered in sauce and then baked to perfection. This thing DEFINITELY required chop sticks. And a level of mastery with chop sticks at that.

Another kind of seafood meal I like is the bento box. Traditionally a Japanese lunch box of sorts full of compartments for different components of your meal. They are aesthetically pleasing and allow you to prevent sauces and flavors from meshing on the plate.

Got this lovely little box for about 7 dollars at a sushi joint in Oakland.

I have even tried cooking fish more myself, as evidenced by some of my previous blog posts (Shrimp, Dover Sole), and those yet to come (Salmon, Mussels).

Earlier this week, after a particularity stressful day at school, Matt and I went on a little adventure down to the Sutro Bath House ruins.

We went all around, climbing through caves

Studying the little waterfalls

And scouting out for sailors lost at sea.

After a few hours of exploring we were a little starved. We already had some homemade chili waiting at his house for us but needed a little pick-me-up. The famous restaurant, The Cliff House, was calling our name. Not gonna lie though, it’s one of those fancy restaurants where you should probably wear a tie and heels – accessories not meant for the same person. We felt a little under dressed walking in wearing sweatshirts, jeans, and obviously rocking some seriously windblown hair. Whatever. The hostess seemed to think it was cute. (Hope they didn’t see us climbing up the side of the mountain to get there).

After surveying the menu, we agreed that seafood was the best choice. We were at the beach for Christ’s sake.

We wanted to try a few things, so an order of Clams and an order of Oysters were just the things we were lookin’ for.

Steamed clams in a white wine based garlic-thyme sauce. Surprised at the generous portions – I mean this is a pretty upscale place and usually the more expensive the meal the less food you get.

The flavors were pretty wonderful, smooth and a little tangy, until CRUNCH. Discovered a few grains of sand in my clam. As far as texture goes, I don’t think anything is worse they feeling sand in your teeth. My parents always taught me that I should always try things and if I didn’t like it I could spit it out. That’s pretty much exactly what I did.

I straight up stuck my fingers in my mouth and yanked out a half mangled piece of clam. Pretty sure a few other patrons saw me – I didn’t even care. I am sad to say it wasn’t an isolated experience. At least 4 clams had sand. Not sure if that was a half-assed cleaning job on the chefs part or how to circumvent that myself, either way I chewed my clams with skepticism afterward though.

I will eat them again, no doubt, ’cause their sweet taste really is excellent.

Next up were the oysters. It was our first time eating them and based on their price at the grocery store (about 1.74 per oyster), I was expecting pure ecstasy in the form of raw shellfish.

Oysters in a half shell with a marinara-horseradish sauce and fresh lemon wedges.

Looks good, right?

Well, I don’t really see what all the fuss is about. Personally didn’t think they were all that amazing. They were slimy, had a weird flavor, and felt a little like what I imagine a cold snot ball sliding down my throat would feel like, since chewing it didn’t break it into pieces. Oh and I found a piece of shell wedged in one of the folds. The sauce was nice and spicy though.

Maybe oysters are meant for a more refined pallet, not fit for the flavor repertoire of a girl who consideres Nutella out of the jar to be one of her favorite desserts.

I think I will try them again just to be sure.

Not so sure I want to eat at the Cliff House again though. Yes, they are a fancy enough restaurant that they brought out some wonderful warm sourdough bread for us to munch on while we waited and then to use to soak up the clam sauce. However, upon adjusting the white cloth napkin (after already taking a bite of the bread) Matt found a curly, blond hair in the basket. Neither of us are blond, let alone have curly hair.

I am hoping, and praying, that the employees wash their hair regularly.