For the last decade «Mad Scot» Roderick Sloan has plunged into Arctic waters to pluck these spike-covered delicacies from rocky outcrops. His urchins (kråkebolle in Norwegian) are sent to some of the most exacting chefs in the world, including René Redzepi of Noma in Copenhagen.
The 45-year old émigré Scot makes his home 88 miles north of the Arctic Circle – little more than a cod’s toss from Nordskot (population 550), one of Norway’s darkest, bleakest, remotests coastal villages. A high-speed catamaran takes you to there from Bodø in about an hour.
For years now, the Danish chef René Redzepi has been telling about the mad Scot who lives way up in the Arctic Circle and supplies his restaurant. When he talks about these sea urchins he is almost ecstatic. To many gastronomes sea urchins are the most delicious natural product on earth. And the very best are the Strongylocentrotus droebachiensis, or “Norwegian Greens”, collected off the coast of Norway.
They look like squash balls encased in pine thistles, not very appealing. But if you like oysters, you’ll love sea urchins. They’re incredibly sweet with the same sort of iodine back flavor in them, and the saltiness and cleanliness of the sea.
Ron shares his farm with his wife and three young sons, spanning 500 acres of land speckled with birch and encircled by mountain.
Sloan’s encounters with these creatures have driven him to spread the message of seafood sustainability and has advised Canadian chefs on why they should “adopt a fisherman.”
“Sea urchins are one of the oldest things in the sea,” says Sloan. “Humans have eaten them for over 3,000 years. There are mosaics in Pompeii with them in.” He adds that he loves the tranquility there, the clean air and the changing of the seasons.
A visitor to his farm, watching how Roddie swam alone down to 50 feet deep, remarked, “You’ve either got to be drunk or crazy to do what he does.”
To begin with the business was tough. Sloan began to supply many of the top restaurants in France, like Alain Ducasse’s three-starred Le Louis XV in Monaco. But his Paris wholesaler went bankrupt in 2008, and he was almost on the verge of giving up when René Redzepi phoned and asked if he could deliver his sea urchins to Denmark.
Today they are among the most costly seafood. Sloan harvests his beds on a five-year rotation, and only by hand. The best, he finds, grow on exposed rocks in rougher seas. Helped by Redzepi’s endorsement, Sloan now supplies more than 30 of the world’s best restaurants, from Sweden’s Fäviken to the three-Michelin star Maaemo in Oslo. “It’s like Roddie invented a new product, a new culinary sensation, says chef Esben Holmboe Bang, from Maaemo.
“It’s like Roddie invented a new product, a new culinary sensation,” echoes fellow chef Esben Holmboe Bang, whose Maaemo is the most shimmering of Oslo’s Michelin-starred chow houses. “His Norwegian greens are sweet and tender and you can taste the wilderness in every bite. It’s like you’re making out with the sea.”
To eat sea urchins you cut around the creature’s mouth and gently scoop out the pale yellow tongues.
“When I started to harvest urchins in 2002, everyone thought I was bananas,” Sloan says. “They’re not a traditional catch in north Norway, and I am the only full-time urchin diver in Norway.” He is keen to show visitors this breathtaking part of Norway. “You’ve got the Northern Lights, great skiing, and the fishing is amazing. And don’ forget our small, spike friends.” He seems to be genuinely fond of them.
Norwegian Crow’s Balls, written by Tor Kjolberg