The Santa Barbara Channel is the world’s top source for sea urchin. Nintey percent of the urchin “caught” here is exported to Asia. At the huge Tsukiji fish market outside Tokyo, the Santa Barbara uni brings in some of the highest auction prices, second only to the rare white roe from Japan's Hokkaido Island.
The Santa Barbara urchin is hand harvested by divers in 30-90 foot deep waters around the kelp forests that they feed on. The Ventura firm, Hashimoto Sea Bridge, processes much of the best catch.
Hashimoto Sea Bridge is a mom-and-pop operation run by Kan and Chieko Hashimoto in an industrial park in Ventura. The crew pops open the urchins with a special spade-like tools and places the roe onto perforated plastic trays. They are carefully washed to remove any shells and debris. They are then shipped overnight to markets worldwide.
You can see them being offloaded in the early evening at the harbor while having steamed clams at Brophy Brothers restaurant. Other than eating them raw in Japanese dishes, there are a number of cooked preparations that are delicious and highlight their briny, fresh from the sea flavor.
White is was an apprentice at le Prés Catalan restaurant in Paris, I helped prepare a sea urchin soufflé. The base of the soufflé was a mousseline of scallops that had egg whites folded into it as well as the uni and herbs. Just before serving, a sea urchin sauce was injected into the center. Another simpler preparation was done at Le Troisgros restaurant in Roanne. The uni was poached in its own juice and served with scrambled eggs, see below.
Sea Urchin Diver Off Loading the Day's Catch
Nets of Urchins Loading Into Boxes
Closeup of Sea Urchin