Catching and Eating Ricci di Mare – Sea Urchins

August 28th, 2007 · Tags: Behind the Scenes · Discovering Food · Food · Italy · Puglia

One of my favorite experiences during vacation was going to the beach at Mattinatella, in the Parco Nazionale del Gargano in Puglia, Italy. Other than the beautiful beach, the water was great and though I sometimes miss the waves of a raging ocean, it’s nice to float and swim for hours as if I was in a lake.

Mattinatella Beach

One of the favorite seaside flavors in Italy are the Ricci di Mare, or Sea Urchins. If you are in Italy during the summer, you may find families hunched around a large bag of sea urchins at lunchtime, enjoying a nice aperitivo.

These are considered a bit of a delicacy for several reasons: the amount of effort it takes to collect them, and the amount of edible material you actually receive for pounds collected. You could buy these from a fishmonger or the pulp in a can, but why? The joy of collecting them yourselves and then eating them directly on the beach is what a ricci di mare lover enjoys. Once you find where they are, the ricci di mare can be pulled off with gloves or using tools (bring a big bag!) Though they are spiny, the don’t hurt when they walk across your hand, and rather tickle.

Ricci di Mare - Sea Urchins ready to be Eaten

Opening the sea urchin is an important process because the edible part rests completely on one side, so you don’t want to open (and destroy) the wrong end! This is an instrument used specifically for this purpose. If you don’t have it on hand, here is a video that shows you how to open them with scissors, but a cleaner cut will probably preserve the edible part better and is worth the investment.

Aprire i Ricci di Mare - Cutting Open Sea Urchins

The edible part is commonly referred to as “roe” which is synonymous with fish eggs, but in this case, it’s actually the organ that produces the eggs rather than the eggs themselves and therefore considered gonads. They can be rinsed with fresh water or salt water before eating or you can pick around the internal parts of the sea urchin without rinsing. They definitely have a salty, complex sea taste that my brain associates with the smell of fresh fish my stepfather would catch and clean for us to eat that evening, and a consistency that is so light that it’s almost foamy.

Ricci di Mare - Sea Urchins

Most ricci di mare lovers will tell you that eating the roe fresh and on its own is the best way to eat them, but often people will make a simple pasta dish with them. Susan from Porcini Chronicles made Spaghetti ai Ricci di Mare con Limone. Risotto is also a popular option for eating ricci di mare.

To eat the sea urchin, tip it to drain out any remaining liquid, and you can scoop out the rows with your tongue one at a time, or use a knife or small spoon. You may be able to find the Ricci di Mare pulp or roe in Korean or Japanese food markets (“uni” in Japanese).

Polpa di Ricci di Mare - Sea Urchin Roe

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41 Comments

41 responses so far ↓

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  • 1
    Farfallina... a roam to Rome // Aug 28, 2007 at 8:22 am

    Wow, Roe is edible? Hmm, I must ask my vikingo if he’s tried this, he seems to know everything about seafood..

    Well, it’s good to see you’re still enjoying vacation, since many seem to be back by now :)

  • 2
    Paola // Aug 28, 2007 at 9:02 am

    Don’t take this wrong but you ate a protected species. This is not good.

  • 3
    Ms. Adventures in Italy // Aug 28, 2007 at 9:32 am

    Paola, I’m sorry, I think you’re thinking of datteri di mare, which are illegal since you have to remove part of the rock to “harvest” them and therefore destroy the ecosystem. This site http://tinyurl.com/yooggt talks about legal harvesting of sea urchins in Italy.

  • 4
    Napolux // Aug 28, 2007 at 1:58 pm

    Well there’s no right answer. In some regions you can eat “ricci di mare”, in others you can’t.

    It depends on regional laws and even on seasons.

    For example, you can’t eat them on summer, but eating them is legal during winter. ;)

  • 5
    daima // Aug 28, 2007 at 2:12 pm

    I live in california. 20 years ago, the fisherman sold sea urchins for 25 cents each, but we didn’t even buy it. When the japanese took it all for the shushi, then we realize how valuable it is.

  • 6
    Jeni // Aug 28, 2007 at 2:20 pm

    I loved this post! I never knew how to open them properly. I have always wanted to eat them straight from the beach, but now I know I need to come prepared. That is one of the best flavors in the world when they are that freschissima!

  • 7
    Cindy // Aug 28, 2007 at 3:39 pm

    Ahh they looked so good~!

  • 8
    jess // Aug 28, 2007 at 5:44 pm

    dont you feel bad letting them crawl across your hand like a pet and then cutting them open alive?

  • 9
    Tiffany // Aug 29, 2007 at 8:42 am

    OMG! That video from Ms. South Carolina was unbelievable. I have never seen anything like it…Scary is right!

    It sounds like you guys had a great time in the South. We also went to Puglia, but quite a bit further south, between Gallipoli and Santa Maria di Leuca. Hope all is well and you are still nice and tanned! T

  • 10
    Jeff // Aug 29, 2007 at 10:04 am

    Don’t forget that you need to know how to pick out the females verses the males! It’s no use opening up something that has no eggs! The females usually have smaller spines and a bigger “test” which is the English word for the body of a sea urchin. I still haven’t warmed up to the taste.

    Jeff

  • 11
    Beth // Aug 29, 2007 at 5:28 pm

    Everything looks gorgeous!

  • 12
    Paola // Aug 29, 2007 at 9:04 pm

    I checked online before posting. I can’t really say fromt he pics you posted, but they seem to be one of the following: Echinodermata
    Ophidiaster ophidianus
    Asterina pancerii
    Centrostephanus
    longispinus (Riccio di mare a spine
    lunghe)
    Paracentrotus lividus ( Riccio di mare di roccia)

    List taken from http://www.sibm.it/file%20.doc/specie_protette.pdf
    (Società Italiana Biologia Marina)

  • 13
    Ms. Adventures in Italy // Aug 29, 2007 at 9:59 pm

    Hi Paola – I appreciate you commenting, and I do think there is some merit to what you’re saying, but I think it’s not as simple as it seems – the site I mentioned before is run by the FAO and is reliable. It also mentions limits for private/commercial fishermen as well as a minimum size limit of each sea urchin, and the periods of stop are May and June.

    The Ministry of the Environment in Italy mentions there are over 118 species of Echinodermi in Italy, of which only 4 types are protected (the ones you listed above). http://www.minambiente.it/index.php?id_sezione=1557

    Echinodermi. Sono uno dei più caratteristici phyla animali: comprendono crinoidi (gigli di mare), oloturoidi (cetrioli di mare), asteroidi (stelle di mare), ofiuroidi (stelle serpentine) ed echinoidi (ricci di mare). In Mediterraneo sono note 143 specie, delle quali 118 sono state raccolte anche nei mari italiani. Quattro specie (due stelle e due ricci) sono considerate meritevoli di protezione.

    I’m not a marine biologist, but I would think these particular ricci di mare are not illegal since many restaurants in Italy serve dishes using them and risk being fined! I did not fish for these ricci, nor did anyone in my group, so unfortunately I can’t account for their location or collection method.

    I think it’s interesting to share this as I see them eaten quite often on the beaches in Italy. I agree there needs to be clearer legislation!

  • 14
    nyc/caribbean ragazza // Aug 30, 2007 at 2:19 pm

    I’m not sure I will be trying these special foods anytime soon (ha) but I love the photos.

  • 15
    Ceri // Aug 30, 2007 at 4:04 pm

    Great pics but I think they look better than they taste, we had them in Venice………. Hope you are enjoying the city life again.

  • 16
    Paola // Aug 31, 2007 at 6:09 pm

    if I am not wrong, the ricci di mare sold in the restaurant should be the cultivated ones.
    Anyway there are way too species!

    I have a biologist friend who work as a researcher at his uni and told me he made experiment using ricci di mare’ sperm and they came from France. (I’m still laughing…and wondering how you extract sperm from them, anyway!)

  • 17
    lieludalis // Aug 31, 2007 at 6:31 pm

    Yum! Uni!
    Urchin in/as sushi is pretty good too.

  • 18
    adina // Sep 12, 2007 at 7:49 am

    questo post sui ricci è fantastico. l’ultima foto poi.. si vede tutta la polpa del riccio! che buoni, eh? bella la sicilia, vero? ciao!!

  • 19
    edinburgh tourist // Oct 25, 2007 at 5:07 pm

    I went to mediteranian Turkey this Summer and trod on one of these little sods about 4 metres from the shore! It was my aniversary and my boyfriend fetched the blasted thing from the sea for me. I was adament you could eat them, so we took it into the restaurant behind us to ask-but alas they said it was too small. Now I know how to do it I shall not hesitate next time I find one! Thanks!

  • 20
    Ron Jeremy // Oct 26, 2007 at 1:18 pm

    Fresh Uni with a little sea water is the greatest thing in the world.

  • 21
    Marco Stevanus // Dec 5, 2007 at 11:27 pm

    Datteri are Illegal, Ricci (which you were eating) are NOT illegal to pick and eat.

    Marco

  • 22
    Francesco // Jan 22, 2008 at 5:30 pm

    How wonderful to have found this website. Your descriptions are right on…including how to open “i ricci” with scissors! This is the was we used to do it when I was a kid and lived in Italy, and it’s still the way we do it in the U.S. whenever we buy the greenish ones. My preference is for the ones from the Adriatic for sure.

    I love your site!

    Thanks for the memories.

  • 23
    jojo // Feb 24, 2008 at 5:28 am

    dove for these with an italian friend by the seashore not too far from rome– ate them right there on the rocks and it was the most beautiful experience — still vivid after all these years.
    But anyway, I’m still confused on how to tell the males from females — I never got it– my friend was telling me the females have a more purplish color? so smaller spines, smaller test and purplish color? anybody can help?

  • 24
    jojo // Feb 24, 2008 at 5:30 am

    btw– i’m in new england now. i’ve been searching for ricci to eat in this way– no luck. anybody know?

  • 25
    pixen // May 26, 2008 at 8:43 am

    In my country, sometimes sea urchins are nuisance because they attacked the coral reefs. Divers are employed to pick them by hand. Not sure if the catch was sent to Japanese restaurants for sushi…

    To eat the gonads take guts to do it. I ate once and it tasted like sea water with strong smell… quite awful for me though. Also the thought of eating reproductive organs put me off … :-P Definitely this delicacy is in my No-No List…:-D

  • 26
    OJ's owner // Jul 21, 2009 at 6:51 am

    Great pics. These bastages can become addictive but unfortunately are quite expensive in the states.

    I can only imagine how good a fresh/live one tastes but have so far only enjoyed what’s available on the eastcoast as Sushi…..which is still well worth it btw!

  • 27
    Martin Yarnit // Aug 2, 2009 at 3:21 pm

    Mattinatella or Mattinata? I recognise your photo so I think it’s the latter. The best beaches in a two week tour around Puglia, altho the nature reserve beach near Ostuni is great. To accompany your travels you need An Appetite for Puglia, a travel/cook book that will inspire your food travels there. Don’t miss the recommended restaurant in Trani by the way.

  • 28
    Adelina // Sep 3, 2009 at 6:04 pm

    OOOOOOOOH No……..Lovely pictures but I hate sea urchin! I tried it once, and will never ever try again!

  • 29
    Elise // Sep 24, 2009 at 6:26 pm

    I had sea urchin at a restaurant in the suburbs of Detroit, it was my first time trying it, and it was like swallowing fishy mucous. Is that the common complaint for first timers or is there just something wrong with that urchin?

  • 30
    christian yow sang // Jan 22, 2010 at 11:38 am

    I wish to know if the taste of the edible parts of the sea urchin is better if we fry it first ?. please let me know ? i am from mauritius island and there are a lot of these sea urchin which is a nuisance for swimmers ? please reply reply back to me on facebook or on my mail… thanks from Christian Yow Sang … of Mauritius

  • 31
    Karen // May 23, 2010 at 9:23 pm

    Love your site. Have tried many of your posted recipes all with great success. My husband’s favorite is the Paparadelle with gorgonzola. Anyway, I just noticed that a couple of these same photos are in the May issue of La Cucina Italiana. Do you do work for them, too? Keep up the good work. Living vicariously…

  • 32
    Ms. Adventures in Italy // May 23, 2010 at 9:27 pm

    Hi Karen – you’re absolutely right, those are my photos! :) Glad you spotted them! Thanks for reading.

  • 33
    Mario // Jul 13, 2010 at 4:01 pm

    Clearer legislation? This is Italy we’re talking about…

  • 34
    OmniNom // Aug 16, 2010 at 9:54 pm

    I love uni.
    Folks, be aware that this is a highly perishable delicacy and that the quality of what you are served will define your experience. Your local Japanese sushi place may have (commercially stabilized with chemical baths) uni. There are basically 3 classes, A through C. Class A uni is firm, fresh, looks like a tongue, has a taste between vanilla kisses to iodine filled phlegm (!) Your uni should not be runny nor have bubbles! Beware chef shenanigans feeding Class B yuck to tourists…
    I love uni.

  • 35
    Deborah Vivona // Mar 5, 2011 at 6:13 pm

    I loved reading this article…as I visited Gallipoli last Winter, I want to go back and try the sea urchins…
    My daughter lives in Galatina near Lecce… I lived in Mattanada for 6 weeks with her 8 years ago…
    I have shared my daughter’s blog with you …
    Thanks for sharing :)

  • 36
    Ahmed // Apr 4, 2011 at 11:06 pm

    Any body can tell me what is the benefit of eating sea urchin?

    What are the helps for the body?

  • 37
    Stuart // Sep 29, 2011 at 4:27 pm

    Hey folks,

    I live in Aruba, I would love to try the urchin, I am finding it hard to find out if any of them out here are edible.

    Could someone help me out here please.

  • 38
    Liske // Oct 13, 2011 at 10:40 am

    Hi folks,
    Great site, and comment exchange.
    Could anyone tell me where to buy that special tool for opening them correctly, without scissors?

    Thanks for answering!

  • 39
    bongbong // Jan 12, 2012 at 7:02 pm

    sea urchin taste like the crab roe! thats one of the most expensive dishes in japan, probably really good for health.

    I bought a big bag of those in a small island in indonesia for 5cents only! and it taste so good. if you go to some of the restaurant, sometimes it has the “smell” means its not fresh anymore.

    but sea urchin has a lot of types, my dad just bought an island and build a villa there, and in one area of the beach theres a lot of sea urchin, but not this type, they’re like long spines. is that edible as well?

  • 40
    ihvy livres // Apr 7, 2012 at 3:39 am

    here in Philippines, we always do that (eating fresh sea urchin), it’s delicious! love it!

  • 41
    Regina wong // May 31, 2012 at 1:52 pm

    After reading the post of reponse that mention about porhabited of fishing urchin in italy, i want to highlight the topic of called privention- COMMERCIAL FISHING, judge by fishing for sell, which was not restricted to anyone who are fishing urchin for self use. If we are going to fish for sell, we should obey the law which restrict to protect the eco by preventing fishermen fish more than 1000 units, 50 units not less than 7cm in diameter with rake
    The reason why i want to highlight the related law, i love eating urchin and want caught them by myself. Sharing but not scaring anyone has the same favore as i hd.

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