There are two types of restaurant-goers: those who see uni on a menu and keep reading; and those who immediately scrap all plans of ordering anything else, seeking only to maximize their sea urchin intake. (You can probably guess which kind of restaurant-goers we are.)
To the uni-nitiated, sea urchin roe ranks up there with truffles and caviar as an ultimate indulgence. Sweet and briny and utterly distinct, there’s nothing that can imitate its particular oceanic funk.
So it may seem odd to slap such a rarefied (and, let’s be honest, expensive) ingredient between two pieces of bread. But when done correctly, uni sandwiches can make an already magical sea creature even better.
The bread. Not too thick, not too assertive—nothing to overshadow the uni.
The filling. While the sea urchin has to be the star of the show, supporting players have a critical role, too. Perhaps a bit of heat or a bit of sweetness is in order. (And butter doesn’t hurt.)
Here are two such sandwiches in New York City that we’re crazy about.
El Quinto Pino. It’s been seven years since Alexandra Raij first introduced the uni panini at the Chelsea tapas bar El Quinto Pino, and today it’s hard to imagine a city without it. An ample portion of the wobbly orange stuff finds a perfect match in salted butter, plenty of salt and a drizzle of Korean mustard oil—all lightly pressed on a slim baguette-like ficelle.
Toro. Not to be outdone, Toro’s bocadillo de erizos shares those fundamental components—uni, butter, mustard; pressed—but it innovates with pickled mustard seeds and a miso butter that echoes the uni’s sweet-umami balance.