How Sea Urchin (Uni) Is Processed Commercially — How to Make It

How Sea Urchin (Uni) Is Processed Commercially — How to Make It

September 2, 2019 100 By Stanley Isaacs


(chopping sounds) – This is really therapeutic. (laughs) (upbeat techno music) I’ve used uni all throughout my career. It’s basically umami that’s
already created for you. It’s also called fish
butter, butter of the sea. Nowadays, you don’t see
it just plopped on sushi. The possibilities are endless. I receive it in a very
expensive little wooden tray and we are here to see that
process from the beginning. (energetic techno music) We’re about to bring out some sea urchin. How did these get here? – We got one boat coming
from Santa Barbara Island, which is a small island
about 20 miles from shore. We got another one from
San Clemente Island, which is about 60 miles from shore. – So they’re sorted in here by boat, and then we’re gonna bring ’em out– – Absolutely, yeah. – Over here to sort. – Yeah. – [Katie] They’re diving for these, they’re picking them individually by hand. – They’re picking ’em
individually by hand, one by one. This boat had to go 90
feet, around 90 feet. – Oh, wow. – Yeah, around 90 to 100 feet. (energetic techno music) Give it a little whack, yup. And try to split it, there you go. – Got it. – [Mark] Yeah, the mouth,
look for the mouth. There you go, you got it. (chopping noises) There you go, there you go. – Ooh, I kinda like it. We’re sticking it in
the mouth, or the beak. – [Mark] And crack it, there you go. – [Katie] So there’s
five pieces per urchin. – [Mark] There’s five tongues, yup. – I thought that there was one per, there’s actually five per urchin. After they’re cracked open, we’re gonna scoop ’em out. – [Mark] Without damaging them. – Got it, that’s the biggest part. So this is salt water. – [Mark] Yup. – [Katie] What happens if I
accidentally slice into one? – They drop a grade. So they usually drop, you
know, a couple of dollars. – Maybe we don’t want me over here in this part of the process. I’m kind of holding my breath, ’cause I know that one wrong move or if I’m not working delicately enough, that is directly costing him money. We’ve scooped the urchin and
now we’re starting to clean it. – And as you can see already here, there’s a bunch of different
colors for the sea urchin. – Let’s talk a little bit about that. We’re in California, so let’s
talk California verse Japan. – Right, it’s a different
species in Japan. The size is obviously different,
the feed is different. You know, the Japan sea
urchin is very good as well. – [Katie] Is this good enough to move on? – [Mark] Yup, that’s okay. We’re picking out the premium. – [Katie] So this is the premium. These blue trays are top grade. – [Mark] Yup. – The sorting for grading is starting to happen right now already. – We sort out the premiums here because we process the premiums
a little bit differently than the other grades. – [Katie] So grading is
based on color and firmness? – [Mark] Color, firmness, dryness. – [Katie] Dryness. – [Mark] Did you wanna try one? – [Katie] Oh my gosh, this is amazing. – [Mark] You could try that color first. – [Katie] So this is premium. – [Mark] This is the premium grade, right. – It’s so sweet, and like salty. – [Mark] Straight out of the shell. And this is–
– Wow. – [Mark] A little bit more orange-ish. – Wow, I’ve never had it
this fresh ever before. – [Mark] A little bit different. – It’s very subtle, but
it is 100% a difference. – Yeah, out of about 1,000
pounds of sea urchin, we get maybe five to ten
trays of the premiums, so– – Wow. So what are the different grades? Premium– – We do premium, number one,
number two, number three. It goes into the alum soaking tank. The alum is a firming agent. – How long does that take? – Sometimes it’s as quick as ten minutes, sometimes it’s, you know, 40 minutes. – ‘Cause it’s all about
the texture, you know. – Texture and then, you know you want to keep the juice in there too, just ’cause a lot of
the flavor is in that. (energetic techno music) We do the final cleaning stage. – [Katie] So you’re
continuing to clean them. – Yup. This is Roberto. He’s been with us for 37 years. – 37 years. So we’re tweezing out
any remaining impurities. I am not a stranger to tweezer work. I’ve never been this
nervous doing tweezer work, ’cause I just am really
trying not to damage the uni. I’m beginning to understand
why that little wooden tray– – Mm-hm, costs so much. – Costs so much. Where is all this uni going? – We do a lot of
restaurants in Los Angeles, we do a lot of wholesale. – [Katie] You can order this online. – Yeah. – How am I doing? Too slow? – No, no, no, it’s okay. (laughs) – [Katie] Too slow. – Clean again. – This was probably one of my trays. Gimme two seconds, gimme 30 minutes. Ooh, one stack. So now we are finally
at the packaging stage. This is what I’m used to seeing. – And this is that premium grade we were talking about earlier. Anywhere from five to ten
trays every 1,000 pounds. – Wow, how much is this retail? – This retail we sell it for $85. And it’s 250 grams. – Wow. – These we deliver to the restaurants. – Within a day of coming out of the water. – Right. A lot of the restaurants,
they make the mistake of, even the sushi restaurants, while they’re using it, they leave it out on the counter. And they leave it out for like an hour. Or even in the kitchen. So that will affect the
taste and the shelf life. This is Bertha, Katie. She’s been with us for 40 years. – [Katie] 40 years, from the beginning. – From the beginning. We only have maybe two or three ladies that pack this tray. – [Katie] Right. (energetic techno music) – [Mark] Did you make that? That was yours? – Yeah. – [Mark] Not bad. – Hard judgment going on right now. It’s an unbelievable amount of work to get it to this point. – We also have another
uni which is no alum. It’s all natural. – Oh, wow. – Completely straight out of the shell like you had over there. – Right. – The first two pieces that you had. I’m gonna show you that station. – So over here we’re going straight from getting them out of
the shell and cleaning and we’re keeping them in that salt water that they were just pulled from. – Yup, 100 gram trays of water packs. (energetic techno music) – [Katie] Wow, so who’s buying this stuff? – [Mark] This, it goes to a a
lot of our retail customers. And right now there’s some restaurants that are catching on. – I didn’t even know
this existed until now. – Not many people do, so that’s why I’m glad I was
able to tell you about it. – [Katie] It’s really cool to see this. – [Mark] This here is a metal tray. These are 100 gram trays. And they’re a little bit more compact. – [Katie] So then from here,
these are packed for FedEx. – [Mark] Yeah, yeah. – [Katie] Okay. – [Mark] So this is what Katie made today. – Four packages of uni, going to Eater. (tape ripping) This was a really special one for me because my whole career in kitchens, I received that little
wooden box of perfection. – Right. – But I never knew what went into it. How it got to that point. So this was really, really cool to see it from the beginning. Thanks for watching this
episode of How to Make It. For more episodes, click here. And we’re going straight down. – We’re going straight down, we gonna make a cylinder now. (whirring of chainsaw motor)