Cooking for a Commissioner – Sea Urchins

I’ve been wanting to try a particular recipe from a site which features the meals penned by an italian author of fictional crime stories. The main character, Commissario Montalbano, is a police commissioner who is (in my husband’s exact words) molto goloso or very greedy in terms of having a keen appreciation for food. This in itself is enough to grab my interest but the text is written in a sort of sicilian dialect that I can’t quite understand. Still, for italophiles curious about Andrea Camilleri’s works, Ronald of Via Ritiro N.7 does a neat summarization.

Now what comes to mind when I think of food and cops or cops and food is this: hot dog stands, donut shops, and cups of coffee to go. How a sicilian writer could possibly conceive the idea of tantalizing meals in between chasing down criminals is a mystery to me. But then I’m not italian. A bonus that my husband is for it was his enthusiasm towards Camilleri that prompted me to try the following sea urchin recipe for our new year’s eve dinner. This is a dish that appeals to adventurous palates and not easy to duplicate unless processed, or better yet, FRESH sea urchins are readily available. At the time of purchase, they were selling at 16.25€/kilo at the fishmonger.

Most hawaiian species of sea urchin are generally known as wana (pronounced VAH-na) but it’s the purple and shingled, hä‘uke‘uke that I grew up relishing. Sea urchin has a distinct sea aroma that took me straight back to the islands when we were breaking them open. In Italy they’re called riccio di mare and I swear, the succulent, orange-colored roe are exquisite!

Spaghetti with sea urchin roe (adapted from A. Camilleri)
Serves 4
4 lbs.(about 40 or so) fresh sea urchin or 2-3 cans of processed roe
1 lb. spaghetti
4 tablespoons olive oil
1-2 cloves garlic, crushed
ground white pepper
italian parsley, minced
lobster oil (optional)

Split the sea urchins horizontally in two by securely grasping them with a pair of tongs, setting them upright on their sides, and cleaving with a heavy knife. Carefully extract the roe into a glass dish and set aside.

Lightly sauté the garlic in olive oil just until golden in color and remove from heat. Meanwhile, cook the spaghetti in salted water, drain well, and add to the garlic-infused oil. Toss to coat evenly and season with white pepper. Divide pasta into serving bowls and distribute the urchin roe among them. Drizzle with a scant amount of lobster oil and garnish with parsley. Serve immediately.


3 thoughts on “Cooking for a Commissioner – Sea Urchins

  1. Anonymous

    Aha, thank you for the translation of the recipe. I am a big Montalbano fan now, thanks to the introduction of Camilleri from our Italian friends and the many English translations of the series that they have now. I have been watching some of the cooking show competitions and have learned more about how to prep sea urchins and am summoning up the courage to try a recipe using them… I have a question though. A pound of sea urchin roe per person? I wonder if I need to get a fishing license here to get four pounds worth of sea urchin roe, hmmmm.


    1. Rowena Post author

      Yes a pound would be just about right since I always pick up a kilo for the 2 of us, although it’s been awhile since I’ve had them fresh. The canned stuff makes a sorry substitute.


      1. Anonymous

        Okay, thanks. Btw, I found out that one needs a sport fishing license here to collect sea urchins. The legal limit per person is 35. I think a fieldtrip either to the ocean or to my local Tokyo Fish Market is in order 🙂


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