Scourge of NSW reefs are best served well done
Celebrated chef Josh Niland, of Saint Peter in Paddington, will share recipes for these native seafoods which can be served fresh, as a butter, in a sauce or as an ingredient in pasta.
"Asians are the largest consumers though it's in America, it's in Europe," Mr Shephard said. "Around the world sea urchin has been eaten for centuries and in Australia we've been lagging behind. We are just starting to realise what a delicacy this product is. We have some of the best sea urchin in the world because we have . .. really good conditions and coastal areas."
Skye Blackburn is to host The Edible Bug Shop, cooking dishes of finger lime and chilli crickets, salt bush and rosemary meal worms and meal worm and macadamia chocolate crackles with a dash of strawberry and eucalypt.
On the tongue, meal worms taste like walnuts, the texture akin to rice bubbles while crickets have a crunchy almond flavour.
Ms Blackburn is bullish about the market for insects as both a culinary delicacy and a nutritional supplement and predicts they will be on supermarket shelves in powdered form within two years. She's developed a range of cereals, muesli bars and chips for whose who have overcome the "ick factor". Australian chef and the Night Market's curator, Kylie Kwong, is a customer of Ms Blackburn's insect fare.
"Insects are a super food. Not only are they a source of protein, they have more iron than spinach, more calcium than milk and more Omega 3 than salmon," Ms Blackburn said.
The growing commercial market in sea urchins and insects are signs not only that local diners are becoming more adventurous but of a convergence between sustainable harvesting practices and goals of environmental protection.
Ms Blackburn farms 200 kilograms of crickets and 100 kilograms of meal worms each week, a less intensive agricultural practice than cattle grazing.
The sea urchins are aggressive night time feeders who sup on macro algae or seaweed. "They are present wherever you've got rock crevices and you've got weed," Mr Shephard said. "Any cracks, sometimes they are sitting all over the rock in the crevices, but at night time they come out and move around and in the daytime they then go back to nooks and crannies and sit there for the day."
"They eat everything, all the seaweed. They are so abundant, even if you could get every diver out there to actually remove them you just couldn't."
February is the start of sea urchin harvesting season when the roe builds and fattens. Towards the end of the season in June or July, the roe is at its most flavoursome, according to Mr Shephard.
It's only a matter of time before Australians come to embrace the seafood produce that Greeks and Japanese have long enjoyed.
Extensive sea urchin "barrens" have been found in reefs at Montague Island and in the waters around Bermagui, Tathra, Merimbula and Eden.
The Department of Fisheries helped instigate a culling operation in waters off the Three Brothers island at Bermagui, to protect abalone harvests.
Night Market will be held on Friday, February 9, 5pm to 10pm at Carriageworks.
Linda Morris is an arts and books writer for The Sydney Morning Herald.
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