Uni Pasta is a popular Japanese-style spaghetti that features a delicate sauce of sweet and briny sea urchin, rich cream, and white wine. Believe it or not, this luxurious pasta takes just 15 minutes to prepare. It’s an umami treat!
Sometimes all you need is one exceptional ingredient to make a seriously good pasta. I’ve introduced quite a number of Japanese-style pastas in the past, but today’s recipe—Uni Pasta (うにパスタ)—feels so rich and special. It is at the top of the readers’ requested list, so I am happy to finally bring this pasta to the blog.
Ready to make your weeknight cooking a fun adventure? You’ll need just a handful of ingredients. As for fresh uni, get it from the Japanese markets or online.
Table of Contents
What is Uni Pasta?
Uni (pronounced [oo-nee]) means sea urchin in Japanese. Uni Pasta (うにパスタ) is a creamy Japanese-style pasta starring sea urchin. In this recipe, we have al-dente spaghetti coated with a luscious orange sauce made with fresh sea urchin, heavy cream, and white wine. The ingredients for the pasta are very simple, yet the sweet and salty uni flavor takes the center stage. The rest like sautéed garlic, shallot, and red pepper flakes work alongside to bring this gem together.
What Does Uni Taste Like?
If you haven’t tried uni, you’d be most curious about its taste. Uni is loved by its one-of-a-kind seafood flavor profile: rich, savory, intricate, and custardy. Some say it resembles oysters or scallops, with sweetish and creamy notes. Personally, I think fresh uni is amazingly delicate in taste and buttery in texture. If you get a good quality uni, it’s never fishy but instead, has the enticing taste of the ocean. Like earthy ocean truffles!
When used in pasta, uni lends an unexpected but sumptuous umami undertone, which gives the creamy sauce all the richness it needs. A certainly mega wow factor.
Learn more about uni and how it is enjoyed in Japanese cuisine in this ingredient post.
Where to Get Uni (Sea Urchin)?
I usually get uni from local Japanese markets (Suruki Market and Nijiya Market in San Mateo). They carry both uni from Hokkaido, Japan, and Santa Barbara, California. Hokkaido uni is a bit more pricy so when I make uni pasta, I usually get the ones from Santa Barbara.
This beautiful bright-orange sea urchin is a delicacy and it’s expensive. However, you don’t need that much—1.5 ounces (43 g) per person, including a few pieces for topping.
How to Make Uni Pasta
Ingredients You’ll Need
- Spaghetti – Long pasta such as spaghetti or bucatini or angel hair would be best.
- Fresh uni (sea urchin roe) – It is the main flavor of the pasta dish, so please use the amount specified in the recipe, not less.
- Garlic – Just one large clove would be more than enough. You don’t want too much garlic to overpower the flavor.
- Crushed red pepper or red pepper flakes – Can’t take spicy heat? Still, don’t omit it. You’ll use just a tiny amount of the red pepper flakes. The role is not to add heat, but to punch up the flavor. The uni sauce might be too bland without red pepper flakes. They add dimension and I find them necessary. Use less amount if needed. Red chili pepper flakes are made from one pepper type – chilies and they are hot, while red pepper flakes are made from a mixture of peppers and are hotter.
- Shallot – Shallot is more flavorful than onion but if you don’t have it around, you can substitute onion for the shallot.
- Extra virgin olive oil
- White wine – The wine offers a slight acidic element to balance the richness of the sauce, and helps bring the flavors of each ingredient. Allow most of the alcohol to cook off.
- Heavy cream – Sea urchin The heavy cream helps thin out the sauce.
- Salt and pepper
- Shredded nori (kizami nori) for topping (optional) – It’s one of the classic toppings for Japanese-style pasta. You can also sprinkle with a small amount of a fresh chopped herb like chive, but don’t use a strongly scented/flavored herb like parsley because it conflicts with uni.
Overview: Cooking Steps
- Cook spaghetti in boiling water.
- In a frying pan or skillet, sauté garlic and crushed red pepper flakes on medium-low heat, followed by minced shallot.
- Once shallots are tender, add the white wine and cream and cook a little bit.
- Add the uni and break it into smaller chunks.
- Add cooked spaghetti and mix it all together. Add pasta cooking water to loosen it, if needed. Transfer pasta to serving bowls and serve immediately with additional uni and shredded nori topping.
5 Important Tips to Remember
- Don’t overcook the pasta. Al dente is a must. I usually cook 1 minute less than the package instruction when I have to coat the pasta with the sauce in a frying pan.
- Don’t burn the garlic and red pepper. Use medium-low heat to slowly cook the garlic and red pepper to bring out the flavors.
- Reserve the pasta cooking water. The salted pasta cooking water is very helpful for seasoning and diluting your pasta sauce. Before draining the water, make it a habit of reserving 1/4 to 1/2 cup, even though you may end up not using it.
- Always check the taste of the pasta sauce before you add the pasta. The sauce should be slightly stronger (saltier) as the flavor gets diluted slightly with the cooked pasta.
- Uni pasta should be served immediately. The sauce will be coated with spaghetti and it can get dry if you leave it out. If you plan to serve the pasta with salads, drinks, or other dishes, prepare everything before you start cooking pasta.
What to Serve with Uni Pasta
This uni pasta recipe makes the simplest fancy-ish dinner. Pair it with a refreshing salad and some chilled white wine or sake. So so good!
- Japanese Kani Salad
- Easy Carrot Salad
- Seafood Salad with Vinaigrette
- Spinach Salad with Asian Dressing
- Arugula Salad with Fennel and Naval Orange
Other Japanese-Style Pasta to Try
- Japanese Pasta with Shrimp and Asparagus
- Miso Butter Pasta with Tuna and Cabbage
- Shiso Pesto Pasta
- Japanese-Style Tuna Mushroom Pasta
- 10 Popular Japanese Pasta Recipes For Dinner (Ready in 30 Minutes)
Uni Pasta (Japanese Creamy Sea Urchin Spaghetti)
- 8 oz spaghetti (4 oz, 113 g per person)
- 1½ Tbsp kosher salt (Diamond Crystal; use half for table salt) (for the pasta cooking water)
For the Sauce
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 shallot (minced; 3-4 Tbsp for 2 servings)
- 1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- ¼ tsp crushed red pepper flakes
- 2 Tbsp white wine
- ¼ cup heavy cream
- 3 oz uni (sea urchin) (reserve 3 pieces per serving for garnish)
- ¼ tsp kosher salt (Diamond Crystal; use half for table salt)
- ⅛ tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 2 Tbsp reserved pasta water (optional; as needed to enrich the sauce)
- Start boiling 4 quarts (16 cups, 3.8 L) of water in a large pot. Gather all the ingredients.
To Cook the Pasta
- Once the water is boiling, add the salt to the cooking water. Then, add the spaghetti. Stir to make sure the noodles don't stick to each other. Cook 1 minute less than the package instructions (the pasta will cook a bit more with the sauce).
To Cut the Ingredients
- While you wait for the spaghetti to cook (about 10 minutes), start preparing the ingredients and then make the sauce. Mince the garlic (I used a garlic press) and shallot. You will need about 3-4 Tbsp minced shallot for 2 servings. My shallot was large, so I reserved the rest for another use.
To Make the Pasta Sauce
- Heat a large frying pan over medium-low heat. Once it's warm, add the oil and evenly coat the pan. Then, add the minced garlic and crushed red pepper flakes. Sauté until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Do not use high heat; otherwise, the garlic and pepper flakes will burn.
- Add the minced shallot and sauté until translucent.
- Add the white wine and mix it together.
- Add the cream and combine well together.
- Add the salt and freshly ground black pepper and mix well.
- Add the uni (sea urchin) to the pan, reserving some pieces for garnish. Use a wooden spatula to break up the uni into the cream mixture to form a smooth sauce, leaving some small chunks for texture.
- Taste the sauce and season with salt and black pepper, if needed. If your spaghetti is not done cooking, take your pan of sauce off the heat and cover with a lid so the sauce does not evaporate and thicken.
- When the noodles are done cooking, collect the reserved pasta water. Then, either transfer the noodles to the sauce in the pan with tongs or drain the spaghetti into a colander before adding it to the sauce. Toss to evenly coat the spaghetti with the sauce, adding some or all of the reserved pasta water to enrich the sauce. You don't want the spaghetti to absorb all the sauce here, so work quickly.
- Transfer the Uni Pasta to individual plates and garnish with the reserved sea urchin pieces and shredded nori (optional).
- You can keep the leftovers in an airtight container and store them in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours. I don't recommend freezing the leftovers.