In Provence, sea urchin oursinade is one of the region’s signatures, a briny, velvety staple that often incorporates cream and eggs. But in the far-flung and warmer climate of Hawaii, Chef George Mavrothalassitis of Chef Mavro leans on the islands’ Asian influence for his oursinade, making a rice pudding base for his uni foam and cutting out most of the heavier dairy products. The result, which he calls “sea urchin suspended in air,” is a velvety, aerated velouté.
Mavrothalassitis hails from Marseilles, but his interaction with local Asian markets in Honolulu led him to develop the okayu rice pudding, normally served as a dessert or salve for sick stomachs. Despite his French heritage, Mavro is “not really comfortable with cream. But I became comfortable with rice, [so] I had the idea to do an emulsion with rice pudding.”
It’s not Mavrothalassitis’ first ride on the foam rodeo. In fact, his interest in foams began almost 30 years ago, when he took a train north from Provence with his son to dine at Joël Robuchon’s newly Michelin-minted Jamin in Paris and was wowed by a langoustine nage with foam on top.
That curiosity led Mavrothalassitis to dabble a bit in foams and gelees. “Talking about molecular cuisine, I like it in general,” he says. “I think when molecular cuisine started years ago, we were doing even crazier things than molecular. We were getting totally crazy. So I recognize a lot of our craziness inside the molecular cuisine, and I like it. What I don’t like is the incorporation of chemical and non-natural ingredients.”
After three decades of tinkering, you’d think Mavrothalassitis was born with an uni-laden iSi whipper in his hand. “I like very much the compressed air, because it has become a whisk substitute,” he says. For the oursinade, he needs only one or two eggs—instead of a dozen—to get the required foam, and with the whipper, he cuts out nearly 20 minutes of vigorous whisking.
On top of the oursinade, Mavrothalassitis plates two sweet Kauai shrimp, just warmed through and butterflied (“I just show the shrimp the cooked oursinade,” Mavrothalassitis jokes), sour cream with shallot and chives (to soften the uni’s flavor), and a single uni lobe. He nestles the whole uni between two sheets of Japanese gelatin, so the fresh urchin isn’t cooked by the heat of the foam.
The result is a subtle, silky dish. The slight bitterness from the sea urchin melts away in the creaminess of the rice-based oursinade.
Creamless Sea Urchin Spuma Technique
1. Cook sushi rice in water (or nage) until tender. In a Vitamix blender, blitz the rice with enough water to keep the okayu loose and not pasty. While the Vitamix is on high speed, incorporate the egg, some butter to smooth it out, and finally the broken sea urchin vana. Season the mixture generously with salt and pepper.
2. In a bowl over a simmering water bath, whisk the mixture until warm enough to cook the eggs. Do not overcook, or the eggs will scramble.
3. Pour mixture into an iSi whipper and reserve at 160°F. Foam onto a hot plate just before serving.