Introducing: Sea Intestines
It's a great pleasure each time a new ingredient is added to New York's collective larder, and one of the most recent to appear is sea intestines.
I first encountered them at M & T Restaurant nearly a year ago. They resembled whole-wheat ziti, though the shades ran from beige to caramel to dirty ivory. The consistency was like the rubber stopper in your kitchen sink, but more easily chewable. The wobbly cylinders -- which glistened like the oiled limbs of a bodybuilder -- came nested with garlic chives in a memorably good stir-fry.
Animal, vegetable, or mineral, I wondered? I really couldn't tell, which made me feel like an alien from another galaxy encountering life on Earth for the first time. It turns out they're Urechis unicinctus -- marine worms indigenous to the Yellow Sea, relished in both the Chinese province of Shandong and in Korea (though I've never seen sea intestines on a Korean menu). Apparently, once harvested, they're prepared by lopping off the head and tail, pulling out the guts, and then -- voila! -- the ziti-like appearance.
And a few weeks ago, I encountered them again at a newer Qingdao, Shandong, restaurant in south Flushing known as Lu Xiang Yuan (42-87 Main Street, 718-359-2108). At this place, sea intestines are available as a cold salad glossed with chile oil and crushed chiles ($15), and as a stir-fry with mild green chiles and slender Chinese celery (the vegetable selection varies). Once again, the rubbery and faintly oceanic-tasting worm was the star of the meal.
Making me wonder: Why don't some New York chefs take advantage of this fascinating new ingredient? I'd love to see them in the hands of, say, Tom Colicchio.
Next: A YouTube video of sea intestines at play in captivity ...