We were at My sister-in-law’s in Sciacca, on Sicily’s south coast, last summer when a friend turned up in swimming trunks, carrying a bucket. He had just come back from the beach with a ridiculously large quantity of sea urchins. Several bucketfulls, in fact.
So he decided to give a bucket of them to us.
Luckily my brother in law had his scissors and gloves to hand!
If you directly translate the Italian name ricci di mare, it means “sea hedgehogs,” which sounds very cute. Oddly enough, the English word urchin was the old name for a hedgehog, so technically it’s what we call them too.
They were still alive and their little spines were wiggling around. Brother-in-law doesn’t find them cute though, he finds them tasty. He shoved his scissors in enthusiastically and cut them in half, one by one.
Their mouths are on the bottom to eat algae easily. They have an anus right on the top, also in the centre. The outside part with the wiggling spines has tube feet, meaning they can move around on the sea bed. They go very slowly of course.
They have five-fold symmetry which is not evident on the outside but obvious when you see inside. Sicilians tell you the part you eat on the inside is only their eggs but that is not true, it also contains their digestive system. If you ask them how it is that all sea urchins are female and pregnant, they gloss over that and just start eating them, so that you can’t pester them with any more questions.
Sea urchins usually remind me of being pregnant. Sicilians have a charming belief that birth marks are caused by a pregnant mother’s food cravings that she did not manage to satisfy. To avoid such disasters, if a Sicilian happens to spot a pregnant woman while he is eating anything, he will always offer her some. When I was hugely pregnant I walked past a man with a giant tray of sea urchins, who very kindly offered me a few.
Trust me, there’s nothing a nauseous pregnant woman wants less than highly salty raw seafood. However I had my Hubby on one side and brother-in-law on the other, and a strong nudge from both sides at once told me I had to say YES PLEASE! So I smilingly accepted the sea urchins and had to carry them around the corner, struggling to keep my stomach under control, for Hubby and Brother-in-law to scoff down the lot in raptures of delight.
My newest book ‘THE GODMOTHER’ is out now on Amazon worldwide. It features my diary entries from 2012 not available online, and articles specially written for the book. Find out more or buy it now on Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk
There’s very little else by way of internal parts in a sea urchin. No brain or anything exciting like that.
They do have teeth, though, made of calcium. The five-fold symmetry continues, as the teeth are in five pairs, making ten altogether.
This little fella needs to floss, as he still has some pieces of algae stuck between his teeth.
Sea urchins are echinoderms, related to other animals with five-way symmetry including starfish and sand dollars.
Sicilians are mostly interested in eating them, though. They scoop up everything inside them with a nice blob of bread and eat the lot.