February 2, 2011

The Taste Bud: The incredible edible uzura

Seven-year-old Kyleigh Reeves wrinkled her nose without even taking a sniff when faced with uzura; simply seeing it was enough to make her recoil in horror. She then considered my quail egg concoction for a moment, sat back in her seat and proclaimed, “That’s jacked up.”

My friend Glenda, Kyleigh’s mom, constantly badgers me about my quail egg obsession; every time she and I meet for sushi at Sake Blue, I can’t end my meal without enjoying one. To me, uzura is one of life’s treasures, like a perfectly aged wine or really good dark chocolate. Or sex.

Or bacon.

Uzura, an Eastern delicacy, is served in a number of forms, but at Sake Blue, you get one raw quail egg in a dark, soy-based sauce, with a dab of Sriracha sauce on top of the golden yellow yolk. It comes in a slender shot glass, and that’s exactly how you “eat” it — you throw it back like a shot of Jäger and let the cool, creamy egg and sauce fill your mouth and please your taste buds. It’s only $2.50, and you’ll want the flavors to linger for as long as possible.

There are plenty of variations on this unique treat; when I was in Boston several years ago, I had a form of uzura in which the raw egg was placed inside a cylinder of nori with rice beneath — a sort of variation of tobiko, or flying fish roe — with the creaminess of the quail egg contrasting the saltiness of the roe.

Other sushi restaurants around town offer their versions of uzura as well, including Sapporo, which serves a single-egg shooter like at Sake Blue. Oishii Sushi has a nice double-egg shot for $2.50.

My first experience with uzura (truly, you never forget your first) was at Kobe in Jeffersonville. At Kobe, you get a double shot for $2.50 in a martini glass — the eggs float side by side in a blend of soy and ponzu sauces, with green onions and bonito shavings sprinkled on top, and the signature dabs of bright red Sriracha on top of each yolk.

Honestly, they sort of resemble tiny floating breasts — almost a tiny titty cocktail, if you will. (This reminds me: I’ve read that some cultures consider uzura to be an aphrodisiac; at the very least, it’s a serious mouth-gasm.)

My good friend Jen is also a lover of uzura, so I asked her why she appreciates the delicacy. “At first, the idea of an egg ‘shot’ was both fascinating and repulsive,” she said, “but it’s the rather complex set of flavors” that keeps her coming back.

She also advises first-timers to savor it, unlike an alcoholic shot. “It isn’t, um, a drink. (Is it) food? This doesn’t remind one of a breakfast egg in any way. But to just toss it back as in a dare? You really do need to hold onto it, let it interest you. Damn, now I want one.”

The quail egg also is often served hard-boiled, and becomes a natural for dipping into whatever sauce seems appropriate. The recently opened Holy Grale in the Highlands has a take on it called a Scotch quail egg, a mini version of the Scotch egg one finds in many Irish pubs.

What I find interesting, however, is that the quail egg represents a line even many hardcore sushi lovers won’t cross. Perhaps it’s the lingering image of Sylvester Stallone gulping tumblers full of raw chicken eggs in “Rocky,” with the whites running down his face and onto his shirt like dog drool. Perhaps it’s just that as Americans, we simply see eggs as the basis for omelets or other breakfast foods.

Kyleigh’s mom Glenda said she would never try uzura in part because it looks “slimy,” but also for fear of salmonella or other bacteria — yet she indulges in other forms of sushi with reckless abandon. Well, whatever the aversion might be for some, that just leaves more uzura for me. And I can’t get enough.

Just remember that it’s all in the technique. Savor the flavor, don’t just suck it back.