Two thousand and ten. I may just be getting old, but that doesn’t seem right. It seems like, in 2010, we should be zooming around in flying cars. Or teleporting. Talking to aliens, at least. When I was a kid, to be honest, I thought we’d all be dead by 2010, though I was always a little pessimistic. But still, here we are: 2010. Wow.
We don’t have flying cars yet (and I never really understood why we wanted them–we have airplanes, no?) and, as far as I know, we haven’t reached any aliens; but I have something that’ll knock those things out of the water: linguine with sea urchin sauce and caviar. Happy New Year.
If you’ve never tried sea urchin, you really must. (Though go out to a nice restaurant to do it; the smell of uncleaned sea urchin could deter anyone from a first bite.) To me, the flavor tastes more like the ocean than mussels, with their blue brininess, or even oysters, which run a close second. Sea urchin smells and tastes ancestral, primitive. It’s extremely sexy. Well, once you get past the part where you’ll need to put on thick rubber gloves so as not to stab yourself.
My first taste of sea urchin was at Nobu Next Door, the first time I took Jim out to dinner. He had been taking me out a lot, to Cafe Boulud, and Babbo, and Gotham Bar and Grill, spending the money from his book advance, and I wanted to reciprocate. We drove into the city, showed up at Nobu without reservations, and were directed to their sister restaurant, Next Door. I told the waitress to bring us whatever she liked. I struggled with my chopsticks and one ended up on the neighboring table (thankfully, the couple was wonderful, and gently urged me to eat with my fingers.) I nearly had a heart attack when the check came; I’d been working part-time at Barnes & Noble and finishing my senior year of college, and I think the dinner was close to a whole month’s paycheck. I walked out with a bit of sticker shock, but as it wore off, I realized that I would have paid that and more, if only for the introduction to sea urchin. I was so in love with the stuff and I’m sure I made a fool of myself at the dinner, goofy-faced and swooning, exclaiming that it tasted like the ocean in a cloud.
The next time I tried sea urchin, at a place-that-shall-remain-nameless in the Hamptons, it was decidedly less impressive; the piece was too large, the urchin’s flavor more like the dregs of the sea than the waves. I hadn’t had it since, until this New Year’s Eve. I’m happy to report that it was just as good—better!—than the first time. Parmigiano reggiano and butter compliment the sea urchin’s brininess, a flawless combination that pleasantly surprised me; the fishiness of the caviar brings out the urchin’s sweetness. The sauce coated each strand of pasta in just the right, silky way (you need good, dried pasta for this; fresh would make the overall texture too soft). It was easy enough to pull off after a few glasses of champagne, too.
This year had been one of ups and downs. The ups have been really high. The downs, way down. But as I look back at 2009, I’m amazed at where I am with my cooking, my relationship with Jim, my happiness with myself and the place we live, how much I love this blog. I feel like things are just getting started. 2010 will be a good year, even without teleportation.
Linguine with Sea Urchin Sauce and Caviar
serves 4, adapted from Eric Ripert’s On the Line
I’m still failing at my mission to find Espelette pepper, so I replaced it with fresh black pepper in this recipe. I also used American paddlefish caviar instead of Iranian osetra caviar because it’s sustainable and costs a lot less than the upwards of $500 you can spend for the Iranian. I’ve had both in my lifetime and, especially in a recipe like this, you won’t feel cheated with paddlefish.
The Sea Urchin Sauce
½ cup sea urchin roe (the pink stuff inside)
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted, good quality butter, softened
1 tablespoon water
Freshly ground black pepper
1 ½ teaspoons thinly sliced chives
1 tablespoon freshly grated parmigiano reggiano cheese
Kosher salt and freshly ground white pepper
½ lemon, or to taste
1 ounce American paddlefish caviar, or to taste
For the sea urchin sauce, puree the sea urchin roe in a blender, scraping down the side with a rubber spatula so that no big pieces remain unblended. Pass it through a fine-mesh sieve, and return to the blender. Blend the puree with the softened butter.
To finish the sauce, bring the water to a boil in a small saucepan. Gradually whisk in the sea urchin butter, about 1 tablespoon at a time. Season with salt and pepper and keep warm.
When reader to serve, cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente; drain.
Put the chives in a medium stainless steel bowl, add the warmed sauce and Parmesan cheese, and mix well. Season with salt and white pepper if necessary. Gently toss the pasta with the sauce.
To serve, use a meat fork to twirl one-quarter of the pasta and mound it in the center of a small bowl. Repeat 3 times. Drizzle 1 tablespoon of the sauce remaining in the stainless steel bowl around each mound. Squeeze the lemon juice over the pasta and place 1 ½ teaspoons of the caviar on top of each mound of pasta. Serve immediately.