This Jeremiah Tower recipe for Sea Urchin Soufflé made its debut in a blaze of glory this weekend and immediately claimed a place among our quintessentially Spectacularly Delicious signature dishes, alongside such triumphs as Kugelhopf Surprise, Paella Negra, Aebleskivers and Nachos Olga. Like any good parent, I love all my children equally, it's just that I love some a teensy bit more than others.
Props to amigo Charles Thompson of 100miles.com for this gift of Sea Urchin Soufflé. An early fan of S.D., Charles' advice, support and friendship has added immensely to our goings on back here on the east coast. I think you'll be charmed by his family roots in California and his adventures seeking out the unsung glories of the contemporary L.A. food scene.
Wise Charles knew this was a bulls-eye for S.D. How could it not be? The impressive glamour of opening sea urchins for their precious row (a.k.a. uni to sushi aficionados). Soufflé? Just my style. Baked in the shell? Could it get any better? I think not.
Now onto the glory of Sea Urchin Soufflé. You begin by extracting the roe from fresh sea urchins. Sound tricky? Well it's not. Knock knock with a heavy knife, snip snip with kitchen scissors, scoop scoop with a spoon while carefully scrape scraping out the stunningly unattractive black murk that surrounds the precious lobes or orange roe. Check out my video of how to open a sea urchin.
The rest is familiar terrain. Reading the recipe includes some seeming improbabilities. Cook two ounces of butter with 1 T. flour for five minutes? How can that be possible? It is. Simmer the stock and roux base for 20 minutes — doesn't that sound a little long? It's not. These are examples of the finely-tuned techniques that have elevated Chef Jeremiah to the highest tier of culinary geniuses.
The right tools are essential – a wooden spoon with a pointed edge for that hard-to-reach juncture of pot bottom and side. A flat whisk for the same reason.
Once you've liberated the roe, you're home free. Yolks whirled with the roe are folded into the cooked base; clouds of whipped whites are folded in just before baking. Piled back into the shell tops of the urchins, we're talking serious drama followed by even greater delicousiosity.
In the tradition of the best soufflés these must be served immediately. They begin to lose loftiness as so soon as they hit room temp, so be ready to plate and serve. Lay down the law: absolutely no stragglers getting to table. I mean, come on, you've prepared these divine delicacies and your pals can't get their butts into their chairs in time? Unacceptable. The base and whipped whites hold well separately, so the final mix and 20 minute bake time are accurate. Brook no excuses.
Our old pal Bill was on hand to share the abundance. A sushi lover, he snagged a lobe of raw uni before they descended into soufflé production. "Now that's delcious uni!" I thought a hand slap would be necessary to keep him from slipping a few more off the plate but giving him the stink eye kept him from depleting the cache.
And our final product? Intensly sea urchin-y, only now in a new guise of radiant, ethereal, orange soufflé rising from the spine-encrusted shell.
Note: the original recipe calls for large sea urchins. In my neck of the woods, these smallish creatures from the frigid waters of Maine are what's on offer at our seafood shops. Proximity = freshness so I'm not advocating searching farther afield. Just be prepared with an extra small ramekin in case everything doesn't fit back into the shells.
4 large sea urchins
2 oz. butter
1 cup fish stock (I used bottled clam juice and was completely satisfied with the outcome)
2 egg yolks
4 egg whites
s & white pepper
Open the sea urchins, cutting around the base to remove the flat bottom, keeping the domed tops for the vessels to hold the soufflés. Pick or gently rinse any black nasties on the orange lobes of roe. Clean the shell tops thoroughly.
Purees the roe with the yolks. Separately melt 1 oz. of the butter and 1 T. of the flour and cook on low for 5 minutes, stirring all the while. Add the stock or clam juice and simmer for another 20 minutes, whisking every so often. Allow the base to completely cool to room temp, then stir in the row/yolk mix. S & white pepper.
Heat the oven to 400°. Whip the 4 egg whites to stiff peaks. Fold the base into the whites in batches so everything is evenly colored Butter and dust the inside of the reserved shells. Have a prepared ramekin or mini-souffle dish at the ready in case there' s more than the shells can accommodate.
Bake until they have risen and are slightly browned on top, about 20 minutes. Serve immediately. Immediately!