I once read a nice story about sea urchins in ancient times. A Spartan was invited to a banquet and during the meal he was offered sea urchins. He took one, but he did not know how to deal with it and did not notice how the other guests were managing. He put its hard shell to his mouth and tried to bite it open with his teeth. As he was making no progress and did not want to admit that the hard shell was resisting him, he shouted: “Horrible food! I will not give up and let you go, but I will not take any more of your kind!” From this anecdote, told by Athenaeus of Naucratis at the end of the second century A.D in his Deipnosophistae (“The Banquet of the Learned” or “The Gastronomers”), we can at least learn to avoid making over hasty promises.
In my case it was the seven year old Jason I met in a small village of northern Greece. He was the first person in my life who was able to explain to me where sea urchins lived and show me how to open this obviously dangerous . Greek children who are living by the sea come very soon in contact with every creature under water. They do know very well what hurts and what not. “Don´t worry” said Jason to me,
“It´s so easy to catch and to eat them”. At that time I really thought he was joking. Many years later I recognized sea urchins among the secret delicacies that are well worth making the effort to deal with. Even though they have one of the lowest proportions of edible parts in relation to their body size. The only edible parts of these hermaphrodites are the ovaries or gonads, which are attached to the wall of the shell and glow orange red in the face of anyone who has breached the creature´s natural defense mechanism and penetrated to the inside. In spring time you can watch Greek children on the coast very often as they successfully manage this task. It is well worth it to find someone to teach you how to dive and get them, as well as recognizing the ones full with ovaries. Once you manage to get some, opening them up is the next step of the learning procedure. With a pair of scissors, wearing special gloves, cut the sea urchins in half horizontally. Pour some extra virgin oil and lemon juice on top of the ovaries and using fresh bread as a spoon eat them right there on the beach. Trust me it will be the most delicious picnic you ever had.