We recently found a new place called "Maruhide" 丸秀 to get good fresh California uni. After Christmas, we decided to order their sampler of uni for the New Year. This included fresh uni packed in saltwater, a metal tray of fresh uni, 5 different kinds of uni shuto** ウニ酒盗, and frozen uni shuto "ruibe*" 雲丹酒盗－ルイベ.
*"Ruibe" is a word derived from the Ainu アイヌ, the endogenous people of my home island Hokkaido. Roughly translated, it means "thawing food". In the severe cold of Hokkaido, salmon harvested in early winter quickly froze. In its frozen state, it was sliced thinly and served semi-frozen or over hot rice where it thawed--hence thawing food.
The picture below shows the fresh uni packed in saltwater. It was not treated with any preservative. The only problem was that I could not bust into it no matter how hard I tried. My wife came to the rescue. Wielding a sharp knife, she cut around the lid to open it. After all these "pyrotechnics", we discovered there was a little tab that released the lid very easily--next time we'll know better.
With all the excitement of opening the container, I forgot to take pictures. We divided the contents into two generous servings and enjoyed it with wasabi and soy sauce. I must say this was the one of the best uni we have ever tasted.
**"Shuto" 酒盗: These two letters literally mean "sake" and "stealing". The origin of this name reportedly came from the allegation that shuto is so good with sake that when people run out of sake while eating it, they are compelled to obtain more sake even if they have to steal it. There is a similar preparation called "shio-kara" 塩辛 or, as my wife calls it, "squid and guts". It is made of strips of raw squid salted and fermented with squid guts (mostly liver) which we really like and is also perfect with sake. Shuto appears to have originated and become popular in Kochi 高知 prefecture on Shikoku island 四国. This island is famous for "Katsuo" 鰹 or bonito fishing. Instead of discarding the innards (stomach and intestine), they cut them up, salt, and ferment for 1 year or more. According to what I read, the digestive enzymes present in the innards ferment and preserve the fish guts. Many variations incorporating different flavorings and using bonito flesh instead of innards as well as other fish exist but I have not tried them. "Uni shuto" appears not to contain fish innards.
Here are the five different kinds of "Uni Shuto" in small jars that we received in our shipment. They were originally frozen but as we received them on ice packs, they were semi-thawed. It appears that they could have been immediately frozen again and would have lasted a few more months in the freezer. I only put the "Ruibe" in the freezer and tried all five shuto at once. As per the instructions that came with the products, after the are thawed, we should finish them as soon as possible (whatever that means). We had these during the next 5 days and they were OK. I decided to use the small serving containers we acquired at Nishiki Market in Kyoto 京都錦市場 which were the perfect size for this. I served the raw uni from the metal tray in the last container for comparison.
The picture below shows what the uni shuto looks like.
Although, the raw uni is the ultimate standard, these shuto are very good. We liked "olive oil"and then "original" the best. "With chili" was not too spicy and was also really good. "Chili and Yuzu" is flavored with "Yuzu-kosho" 柚子胡椒 and its flavor was a bit too strong for the delicate uni. "With squid" was good but my wife felt that the "squid" was taking up too much space from the uni. Nevertheless, this is a great find. According to "Maruhide", these are original products only available from Maruhide, Long Beach, CA. So this is a unique "American" product. Definitely, great with sake and I have to report that while eating this, my wife was indeed caught stealing some of my sake when she ran out. We have to wait to taste "Uni Ruibe" at a later time.