At about this time last year, one of my favorite restaurants was serving a pasta dish with Dungeness crab and sea urchin. Unfortunately, by the time I got around to having dinner there, it was no longer on the menu. And I’ve been thinking about it ever since.
For starters, I pretty much love anything that comes from the sea. But Dungeness crab and sea urchin, otherwise known as uni, are at the top of my list. So when I imagined the two together, it just blew my mind a little bit.
If you have never tasted uni, I must say it is definitely not for everyone. It has a custard-like texture and a sort of buttery, salty flavor. It is commonly served in Japanese restaurants, sashimi style, the only way I had ever had it. Which made the idea of a warm uni dish that much more enticing to me.
I waited an entire year with the hope that this dish would reappear on the menu. But I either missed it again or it just never happened. So I decided that I would have to make it myself. When I spotted a recipe for spaghetti alla chitarra with sea urchin and crab while flipping through the pages of The Young Man and the Sea, I knew the stars were aligning. In the end I used a different recipe, but it was a good place to start. And then I planned a field trip to Tokyo Fish Market, my new favorite store.
This pasta is nothing shy of perfection. The sauce is silky and rich without being overwhelming. And the sweetness of the crab is the perfect compliment to the brininess of the uni, which is fantastic warm. The combination was even more incredible than I had imagined; all of the flavors and textures work beautifully together. I feel like I need to toot my horn a little bit because even my toughest critic fell in love with this dish (it really is that good!). I might be somewhat biased since I love me my seafood, but… toot-toot!
spaghetti alla chitarra with sea urchin and crab
adapted from Wine Enthusiast Magazine
1 pound dried chitarra or spaghetti
2 ounces extra virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, sliced thin
4 leeks, white and light green parts only, cut into small dice
2 ounces dry white wine
1/2 cup chicken stock
8 ounces sea urchin (2 trays of cleaned sea urchins)
8 ounces Dungeness crab meat, about 1 whole crab*, or jumbo lump crabmeat
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 lemon, zested and reserved for juice
1 pinch crushed chili flakes
chives (for garnish)
Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook until tender but still slightly firm to the bite, 7-9 minutes.
Reserve 4-5 pieces of sea urchin for garnish and set aside.
Meanwhile, in a large saucepan over medium heat, add olive oil followed by the garlic. Sweat garlic lightly, then add leeks. Cook on low to medium heat until tender, then add wine.
Add chicken stock immediately after the wine and reduce slightly. Add sea urchin and break it up slightly. Add crab at the very end when sauce is off the heat.
Add cooked pasta to sauce with a touch of the pasta cooking water. Add butter and emulsify slowly into the sauce.
Finish with lemon juice, lemon zest, chili flakes and sea salt.
Divide pasta amongst the bowls. Top each bowl with a piece of sea urchin and sprinkle with chives.
*You can usually buy a whole cooked crab at the market, but it’s less expensive (and often more tasty) to buy a live crab and steam it yourself at home.
To steam your crab:
Fill a large stock pot with 2-3 inches of water, just below where the rack will sit (if you don’t have a steaming rack, you can use a bowl placed upside down at the bottom of the pot). Add 6 ounces of beer to the water (optional) and bring to a boil. When the water is boiling, place the crab inside the pot and cover with a lid. Steam for 15 minutes. Remove the crab and let cool until cool enough to handle.
Click here for tips on cracking and cleaning your crab.