Paracentrotus lividus goes by many names in Catalonia . In Spanish it´s erizo de mar (sea hedgehog – an old meaning in English of urchin is the same). The Catalans also call the zoological species an eriço but the animal to be scoured out and eaten is a garota. In the villages along the coast, sea urchin eating reveries are held every year known as orisades, garoinades or garotades, organised originally by fishermen, hence the simplicity in their preparation. Outside the Empordan region there is little about sea urchins in the Spanish Mediterranean, however as Barcelona’s middle class began to buy up huge swathes of one of the most beautiful corners of Spain, they muscled in on the custom, and it is now relatively easy – at a price- to get hold of a few urchins in La Boqueria in Barcelona. Garotes feature strongly and strangely on the winter menus of the trendiest Catalan restaurants these days. Gastronomes here wax lyrical about their delights. The famous Spanish Journalist and Writer, Julio Cambó said ‘there is no seafood that better synthesises the sea so perfectly as the urchin‘ and . ‘an extract of the sea, a breath of a storm, an essence of tempests“. They’re also eaten in Asturias where I believe they use them to make a fine omelette, and urchin caviar is becoming increasingly popular.
The best and only time to harvest sea urchins is during winter. One reason given is that the sea level of the almost-tideless Mediterranean is lower here at this time of year so it is easier to get at the urchins. High pressure over the eastern Mediterranean in winter pushes down on the water, depressing it by as much as 30 cm. Climatically interesting it may be, but the theory is patently ridiculous- an invention of a tideless people- 30cm is nothing to a snorkeller. As with most seafood, they’re just tastier at this time of the year.
Dalí, that Empordà oddball and part-time Francoist, had a thing for sea urchins, and regularly held urchin eating sessions outside his Port Lligat hideaway. He even designed a handbag based on the sea urchin.
From mid-January until mid-March, restaurants in the Palafrugell area take part in the fiesta of the orange flesh of locally caught garotes (sea urchins). Those who wish to sample them in a more natural setting can join the many locals who gather on the beaches to feast on this succulent delicacy.
Sea urchins are considered a delicacy for several reasons: the amount of effort it takes to collect them, and the amount of edible material you actually receive for pounds collected. You could buy these from a fishmonger or the pulp in a can, but why? The joy of collecting them yourselves and then eating them directly on the beach is what a sea urchin lover enjoys. Once you find where they are, the sea urchins can be pulled off with gloves or using tools (bring a big bag!) Though they are spiny, the don’t hurt when they walk across your hand, and rather tickle. Opening the sea urchin is an important process because the edible part rests completely on one side, so you don’t want to open (and destroy) the wrong end!
The edible part is commonly referred to as “roe” which is synonymous with fish eggs, but in this case, it’s actually the organ that produces the eggs rather than the eggs themselves and therefore considered gonads. They can be rinsed with fresh water or salt water before eating or you can pick around the internal parts of the sea urchin without rinsing. They definitely have a salty, complex sea taste and a consistency that is so light that it’s almost foamy. Most sea urchin lovers will tell you that eating the roe fresh and on its own is the best way to eat them, but often people will make a simple pasta dish with them, although risotto is also a popular option for eating sea urchins.
To eat the sea urchin, tip it to drain out any remaining liquid, and you can scoop out the roes with your tongue one at a time, or use a knife or small spoon. Or see our recipes for sea urchins with pasta or in risotto!
On the Costa Brava coast in northern Catalonia , sea urchins are a delicacy. For an opportunity to sample these wonderful Sea Urchins why not experience our Ultimate Gourmet Tour in January, February or early March- on which you can enjoy Spanish luxury and style as you venture from the city to the countryside’s vineyards and seaside towns.