Yummy mummies! Sea urchins come as males or females and have an annual reproductive cycle. They spawn once a year in spring or summer. Ripe females can be 30% gonads (lovely word) by weight and release over a million eggs. The eggs are fertilized in the water by sperm released from an adjacent male. Eggs hatch into a larval stage in the flowing water and after 4 to 6 weeks they sink to the sandy bottom of the sea bed and metamorphose into tiny sea urchins.
Given the chance, sea urchins are probably long-lived, taking 7 years to reach 40 to 50mm diameter and they can reach up to 190mm. Mainly herbivorous, they feed on attached and drifting algae. They are found at depths of 60 to 80m in most situations except estuaries and sand bars. Their grazing habits help to keep the natural kelp healthy and under control.
Maori people still harvest kina (although there is a daily quota regulation in place as there is for all fish and shellfish in NZ) by diving around offshore rocks with a heavily gloved hands, a knife and a shoulder bag. Some say a screwdriver, tied to the wrist with a piece of string, is preferable to diving with a knife in the waistband of your shorts. That makes sense.
But what does it taste like? I'm told that the kina is mainly liquid. That the Maori people just drink it from the outer casing. It's said to taste a bit like a very fishy milkshake with overtones of iodine... but hey, this is not a paid assignment... and gonads or no gonads I'm not going to test it out! I'd rather leave it where it is, doing its bit to clean up the ocean bed. I thought there must be more to it than just a mushy drink and sure enough, further investigation came up with more precise information.
Harvest moon? Kina is best harvested in October, November, December, January & February at low tide on the 1st, 2nd & 3rd days after a full moon.
And now for a recipe... oh yes.
To prepare freshly harvested kina, crack open the shell by piercing the centre or navel of the kina with a butcher's knife. Press the knife down firmly and lever left to right. The shell is brittle and will break into two. Inside you will find a cone-shaped mass of fine teeth-like shell, a colourless salty fluid, 5 tongues, a purple membrane and a quantity of what looks like grit. (Nice, huh!)
Use a teaspoon to scoop out the tongues being careful not to include the membrane or grit. Place the tongues in a jar and discard the rest. (Whew!) The tongues can be eaten raw on bread and are often served with kumara (sweet potato) or pumpkin.
Should you prefer your kina cooked (and who wouldn't?) you can BBQ it or put it into a pie. Simple as that. Alternate layers of kina tongue with slices of bacon in a pastry pie case. Bake for 30 min at 350 degrees. Me, I think I'll stick to the artistic inspiration kina gives and forego the snack.
Footnote: the locals say that if you step on an urchin and end up with spines protruding from your skin, the best we to deal with them is to take your flip flop or flipper and bash them really hard so that they break up. The minute particles left inside you will easily pass through your blood stream. This worked for a friend, but please don't take it as best medical advice!