This is a crazy luxurious dish, containing some of my most favourite seafood in the world, and cream and butter. I've had uni sauce for pasta before, mostly in fancy restaurants and the like, but not to this degree at home. Well, ok, we did attempt an uni cream sauce once, with actual fresh uni, but this dish, this dish nails it just so. Just the right amounts of cream and uni and other goodness (mentaiko was definitely the key) to turn something fantastic into something orgasmic.
There was a time, a long while ago, when I actually didn't like sea urchin. I enjoyed sushi well enough, but had not yet sampled the briny goodness of fantastic uni. I decided, on a whim, to give it a try one night. I was with good friends AnnaMarie and Brian at Godzilla Sushi on Divisadero, and I had asked our server what was good that evening. "Uni," she answered immediately. And so I ordered a pair of nigiri. It arrived, and in the dim light looked so brown and gooey and unappetizing despite being wrapped neatly with strips of nori. AM and Brian were no help, making faces and "ew" sounds of disgust. Nonetheless, I popped one into my mouth, and to this day cannot remember whether it was taste or texture or the unhelpful reactions of my friends that made me want to spit it right out. Probably a combination of all three.
When I met DD, I was still a bit scarred from that experience, but he, also an uni virgin, was open enough to still want to sample it, and encourage me to try again. "Let's order uni at a place we know won't screw it up," was his mantra, and it was at Ame -- the Michelin-starred Japanese fusion restaurant at the St. Regis Hotel -- where we both sampled, enjoyed, and started to become true sea urchin fiends. Indeed, as my Flickr stream will attest, we now gladly, eagerly and greedily consume uni in all modes of preparation. The Spoonfuls of Happiness from Sushi Koo are one of our favourite preparations, with uni and quail egg paired with a tobiko ponzu sauce dominating one of the spoons.
For those of you not familiar with mentaiko, it's another new favourite ingredient of mine. It's Japanese/ Korean in origin, and I buy it from the refrigerator section of my favourite Japanese market, Nijiya. They're basicaly sacs of marinated pollack roe, like an undried version of bottarga. Traditionally, it's usually served plain over rice, or mixed into onigiri balls. At our house, we like it mixed with a little butter and served with some warm buckwheat soba. It's definitely not very pretty but is so very tasty. And don't worry - the "spicy" version is so not very spicy. Nothing like the Momofuku pork sausage stew I made the other day... The mentaiko gives great seafoody oomph to the sauce - I daresay the dish would not be the same without it.
But first let me give credit to Eat A Duck I Must's recipe here, which I used as primary inspiration and tweaked a bit as I went.
Scallop, Uni, Mentaiko and Squid Ink Pasta
- 1 dozen or so large sea scallops (20/30 size)*
- 2 boxes of prepared uni
- 2 packages of spicy mentaiko (squeeze the roe from the sacs into a small receptacle - there should be an opening near the thicker end.)
- 1 12-oz. package of squid ink fettucine (I used Al Dente brand, procured at my neighbourhood Andronico's - ultimately I would have used another brand - this one's just ok.)
- 1/2 pint or 8 fluid oz. of heavy cream
- 1 bottle clam juice
- 1 package tobiko seasoned fish roe
- 2 cloves garlic, fine chopped
- 1/4 cup dry white wine
- Microgreens or finely minced chives for garnish
Serves 4. (Or 2 with lots of leftovers.)
1) Put a pot of heavily salted water on to boil.
2) Warm the cream and clam juice in a pot and add the garlic. Simmer gently for about 8-10 minutes - don' let it come to a boil if you can help it.
3) Take the liquid off the heat and add 1.5 boxes of uni to the cream mixture.
4) Using a hand-held immersion blender, blend the uni into the cream until large chunks of uni have dissolved into the dairy mixture. Set aside. Keep warm.
5) Make sure to pat dry your scallops before cooking and sprinkle on some salt and pepper.
6) In a hot pan with a bit of butter and olive oil sear the scallops until nicely browned, about 2-3 minutes per side.
7) Remove the scallops from the pan, set aside.
8) Deglaze the pan with the white wine. Add a couple of pats of butter and whisk, until the scallopy fond has dissolved and the butter and wine are well incorporated.
9) Add in the mentaiko and stir until well incorporated. Add more butter to taste, if desired. Leave the mentaiko sauce in its cooking vessel.
10) Throw the pasta into the boiling water and cook according to directions. Depending on the cooking time for your pasta, you may want to switch up cooking the scallops and making the mentaiko-sauce after you put the pasta into the water.
11) Once the pasta's done to your liking (al dente), add it to the mentaiko sauce along with a little of the pasta water. Stir to mix well. Add in the uni cream sauce.
12) Plate by scooping up some pasta and arranging it in the center of a plate, and then surrounding the dish with the seared scallops. Arrange some of the remaining uni on the pasta. Dot with teaspoonfuls of tobiko according to your taste. Spoon some of the cream sauce around the plate.
13) Sprinkle on some microgreens. Enjoy with a glass of Viognier.
*On buying scallops - make sure to buy scallops that do not contain extra additives like sodium tripolyphosphate (STP), added by some processors to help keep the seafood moist during packing. It's not harmful to your health, but STP does cause scallops to absorb a lot of water. When you cook the shellfish treated in STP, you'll lose all that liquid in the pan, and possibly prevent the scallops from achieving the nice brown caramelised crust that looks so good and tastes fantastic. Treated scallops tend to be starkly white in colour; untreated less so - more creamy tan or beige. Untreated scallops will also feel a little tacky to touch, not so smoothly damp. Look for "dry pack" scallops and make sure to check the ingredient list if buying frozen scallops. Scallops sitting in a lot of milky liquid in your fishmonger's case will probably be previously-frozen shellfish treated with STP.