Uni is a special delicacy enjoyed around the world in a variety of applications, most notably sushi. At Seattle Fish Company we don’t just buy on the open market—we go direct to the source and work with the producer that hand crafts this product from the live urchin they dive for.
The Red Sea Urchin harvested in Southern California waters, and processed at Catalina Offshore Products, is considered one of the best tasting Uni products in the World. Checking results at Japan's prestigious Tsukiji Fish Market, the highest priced bids are often for Catalina Offshore's Uni, save a select local Japanese variety of Uni. In the US, Japanese sushi buyers on the East Coast agree that the Sea Urchin from San Diego produces the best Uni available in the US.
Sea Urchins are bottom feeding “echinoderms” that are found in every ocean around the world. The urchins that are processed—Strongylocentrotus franciscanus—range from dark blackish purple to red in color. They are covered with short to long spines. The diameter of the shell can grow up to 6 inches and the average weight of a sea urchin is one pound. California Red Sea Urchins are found off the coast usually in about 50 feet of water in kelp beds.
Once considered a pest in the early 1970's, this same Sea Urchin was targeted for destroying masses of Kelp forest. At that time, a local Kelp harvesting company used Quicklime to kill the urchins and Divers were hired with the sole purpose to kill sea urchins to preserve the Kelp forest. All changed when these Urchins were successfully marketed in Japan in the mid 70's. Urchins quickly went from "pest" to "prized harvest" and the new fishery experienced rapid growth.
By the mid 80's the sea urchin industry was focusing on Fishery Management and has since developed a well-managed, self-regulated sustainable fishery. There is a limited number of Urchin permits allocated, size regulations, and seasonal closures which have successfully maintained healthy populations of Urchins in Northern and Southern California. Sea Urchins are individually harvested by hand by local divers into large net "sacks" that Divers carry with them and have pulled to the surface when full. There is no incidental by catch. Each day's harvest is processed immediately and the freshness results in a 7-10 day shelf life.
Each Sea Urchin contains five bright tongues of yellow and orange roe. The roe of each Urchin is evaluated based on color, taste and texture to determine the grade of the Uni. Uni is individually packed and categorized into 3 basic grades: Gold—first in color, taste and texture, Premium—taste and texture generally the same but the color is darker and Vana—a mix of urchin pieces that are generally off color and or not firm enough for "tray" presentation. Both Gold and Premium Grades are acceptable for sushi. Vana is generally preferred for sauces and other cooking applications. Uni color naturally varies throughout the year depending on a variety of factors including water temperature, food type and availability, seasonal spawning, etc. Fortunately the conditions in and around San Diego result in some of the best tasting Uni in the world.
The popularity of Sushi and Asian fusion cooking styles has resulted in a growing market for Uni in the United States. Most of this product is now currently sold in the United States. Shipping can be hard on this delicate product and because Uni is easily damaged in transit, special packaging has been developed that stands up to most handling issues.
Uni demand is high, and usually sells out by mid morning or earlier each day. One to two days advance orders are best to ensure availability. Seattle Fish processes Uni within 24 hours, giving it the highest freshness and quality. For more information about Seattle Fish Company’s Uni product, please contact a sales associate at 303-329-9595 or firstname.lastname@example.org.