Sea Urchins roe — the “uni” that sushi-lovers know so well — is one of the greatest ingredients that San Diego and Southern California provide to the world. While other places in the world produce uni none do so better. Oddly, it is an ingredient that only infrequently finds its way onto non-Japanese menus in San Diego. There is no reason it should be so. Here, for example, is uni done as a Spanish tapa.
Serves approximately 30 tapas
For the Pink Pickled Onions:
- 2 red onions, sliced thinly into half moons
- ½ cup apple cider vinegar
- 1 cup water
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 6 allspice berries
- 20 black (or mixed) peppercorns
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon dried tarragon
For the Sea Urchin Paste:
- 1 tablespoon grapeseed oil (or canola, peanut or another neutral oil)
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped carrots
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped fennel
- kosher salt
- freshly ground pepper
- 1/3 cup good quality tequila
- 10-15 tongues of sea urchin roe (the contents of 2-3 fresh sea urchins)
- 2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
For the Octopus:
- 1 octopus, cleaned, about 1 ½ pounds (this will make more than you will need)
For the Toast:
- 1 baguette, cut in half inch slices
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
For the Garnish:
- 30 attractive fennel fronds
- Make the Pink Pickled Onions. Place the onion slices in a metal bowl and cover with boiling water for one minute before draining. Place the remaining ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Add the sliced onions to the saucepan and let stand for one to two hours. Store in a refrigerator.
- Make the Sea Urchin Paste. In a sauté pan over medium heat, bring the grapeseed oil, carrots and fennel up to temperature, season them with salt and pepper, and lightly caramelize them on all sides. Deglaze the pan with the tequila and transfer the contents to a food processor. Pulp to combine and then add the sea urchin roe. Process the mixture to a paste, scraping down the sides of the bowl periodically, and adding as much olive oil as is necessary to keep it processing to a spreadable texture.
- Cook the Octopus. Bring a pot of water to a hard boil and dunk the octopus in it for five to ten seconds, just long enough for the water to come off the boil. Remove the octopus long enough for the water to return to a boil and repeat four more times. Return the octopus to the water one more time and simmer it for 45 minutes to an hour, until the thickest part of the octopus (the “skirt,” where the head meets the legs) yields to the sharp point of a small knife with little resistance. That is when it is done.
- Toast the Bread. Preheat the oven to 400° Fahrenheit (or broil). Brush each piece of bread with some of the extra virgin olive oil. Toast the bread until it just browns on the top.
- Assemble the Tapa. Spread a generous amount of the Sea Urchin Paste on top of the bread. Arrange some fennel fronds on top of the paste. Top with one to three pieces of thinly sliced octopus, depending on the slices and the piece of bread. Garnish with the pink pickled onions.