If any ocean creature can be said to have a cult following, it's sea urchin (uni). Its roe, the edible part, has a briny, sweet taste. When mixed with hot pasta, the roe melts and creates a luscious sauce, as in this recipe based on one from San Diego sea-urchin diver Peter Halmay. California produces most of the American sea-urchin supply; look for the top grade, called California Gold, or B-grade California Premium, which has a slightly softer texture. The roe is extremely perishable, so use it as soon as possible.
1/2 pound linguine or spaghetti
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced lengthwise
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3 of red chile flakes, divided
3/4 to 1 1/4 oz. sea-urchin roe* (5 to 8 pieces; from 1 or 2 sea urchins), cut into 1-in. pieces
2 teaspoons minced flat-leaf parsley leaves
How to Make It
Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook, uncovered, until just tender, 10 to 12 minutes. Meanwhile, put oil and garlic in a small frying pan and heat over medium heat. As soon as garlic begins to sizzle, remove pan from heat and set aside. Warm two pasta bowls between wet paper towels in a microwave, 20 seconds.
Drain pasta, reserving 1/2 cup pasta water, and return to pot. Pour garlic oil into pasta. Add lemon juice, salt, 2 pinches of chile flakes, and half of sea-urchin roe. Toss quickly with tongs to coat well, then swirl in the pasta cooking water.
Divide pasta between warmed bowls (including any liquid) and top with remaining roe, a pinch of chile flakes, and parsley.
*Good fish shops and Japanese markets will either carry sea-urchin roe or order it for you. You can also buy online from San Diego's Apex Wild Seafood (apexwildseafood.com; $46 for 120 grams of cleaned top-grade roe, about 15 pieces).
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