Sea Urchin Foraging, Sydney

 So I’ve been in Sydney for just over two weeks, couch surfing with a couple of mates from back home near Chinatown / Darling Harbour. Having handed out CVs with not so much as a whisper in response, I’d decided it was time to move on and look for work elsewhere. Tomorrow I leave for Melbourne.

On Sunday 15th Iain and I drove across the Harbour Bridge and to Manly beach, located just north of the harbour entrance, to watch a surf competition. In fantastically useless form, we arrived 45 seconds before it ended, glimpsing only one surfer on only one small wave. I’m glad we showed up far-too-fashionably late, however, as I didn’t give a monkeys about the competition and certainly didn’t want to be sat on a packed beach for hours on end. 

We both vetoed the beach, instead, walking down to the Sydney Harbour National Park at the southern end of Manly. After a cliff top stroll we wandered down to a beach located on the eastern side, at Spring Cove. To my amazement, the whole seabed round the side of the beach was carpeted in large urchins. To my dismay, neither of us had anything that we could use to prise them from their holdings, let alone get in to them. We went home, to do some research in to the legality of taking urchins from a national park beach and promising to come back a few days later armed with the necessary tools should the law not prevent us from doing so.

A quick Google search was all that was necessary to find a host of articles by marine conservationists outlining the destructive nature of the urchins, with one of them even encouraging the public to get out there and start eating them. So eating urchins will satisfy my belly as well as going someway to rebalance Sydney’s aquatic ecosystems. Done.

We drove back to the same beach on the 17th Feb, armed with knives, spoons and a colander, we couldn’t find any scissors, which would have made getting the urchins open somewhat easier. Dislodging the urchins was surprisingly easy; a wiggle with a long knife aimed at where they attach themselves to the rocks did the trick in seconds. 

Although easy to harvest, getting the roe from the shell, clean and in tact is somewhat more laborious, so how, then, does one get to the delicious roe inside? 

Usually I’d take a good pair of scissors, trim the spines down and then cut a circle out the bottom side of the urchin (around where it attaches itself to rocks), after doing so I’d use a teaspoon to gently coax out the roe. As well as the roe there’s a lot of ‘gunk’ and other innards inside an urchin, so the roe needs to be cleaned in salty water. As I didn’t have any scissors, just a few knives that Iain had at his flat, I rather brutishly just chopped the urchins in half, scooped out the roe and washed them by placing them in a colander and gently skimming off the crud in the sea. 

In the space of ten minutes I’d cleaned four or five urchins, with an equivalent amount of roe as is sold in Sydney fish market for $18 a tray.

delicious golden roe

I realise most people won’t have tried urchin roe, so what does it taste like? It’s everything a seafood should be, sweet and soft, yet with that addictively distinctive salinity - like sharing an intimate kiss with the ocean. Although I bought knives and a colander, I didn’t quite have the foresight to bring any accompaniments - a bit of sourdough toast and a squeeze of lemon juice would have been delightful, but hey, the urchin roe was salty, sweet and delicious as it was. I’m coming back to Sydney later in the year, urchins will certainly be on the menu.

a pasta colander is an effective way to clean the roe

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  1. Great pics! Can you tell me where this place is?

    1. Thanks, Laura - Sydney Harbour National Park, the bay in between Little Manly and Store Beach