Most of us associate sea urchins with pain, a hazardous danger when swimming in the South of France. For those of us who have stepped on an urchin, you will remember the pain, the black spikes penetrating the skin, splintering and breaking off in your foot.
After my first winter in Corsica, I discovered another story, ‘les oursinades.’ Going to an oursinade at least once in your life is a must. It’s a winter thing and only happens in Corsica when the mountains that form the backdrop of Ajaccio bay are snow capped.
A casual invitation is hollered the night before along with the name of a creek. The person throwing the party arrives at the creek early, dressed in wetsuit and armed with a snorkel, mask, a metal claw for scraping them off the rocks and a net bag. They are harvested and piled up on the rocks. Freshly baked warm baguettes are placed alongside the pile, ready for the feast.
People arrive around 11.30, corks start popping and local Corsican wines are put in the water to cool. Rock pools swiftly fill up with bottles of Fiumiccicoli and Patrimonio, crisp local whites.
The ‘opener’ goes to work with scissors, or a little guillotine to cut into the urchins one by one. The water is drained out and the urchin placed down to reveal a bright orange star of eggs. We call this the corail, the caviar of the sea. Once you have a dozen open and set out before you, you can eat the bright orange star. No cooking is involved, the ‘corail’ roe is eaten either with a small spoon, or a morsel of fresh bread, to mop out the orange delicacy.
Inevitably a fire is lit, figatelli is grilled and the smell of bacon and sausages start wafting over, it’s the savoir vivre Corse at it’s best. The pleasure of being amongst friends or family, lounging about on the rocks with un bon verre de vin blanc and enjoying the winter sun.