Ortolan To eat or not to eat

The French Government had to ban the killing and cooking of ortolans to save these tiny songbirds long considered a rare and expensive delicacy
Ortolan To eat or not to eat
Ortolan To eat or not to eat

The ortolan, a small songbird not dissimilar to the American sparrow, found in southwest France, is so prized by the French gastronome that in 1999 the government had to ban the eating of ortolans to ensure the birds&rsquo survival. Famously, the ortolan was a key course in Francois Mitterand&rsquos last meal (save your outrage, he died before the ban). Michael Paterniti recreated the meal in a story for Esquire and wrote of the ortolan &ldquoThe bird is surprisingly soft... the succulent, tiny strands of flesh between the ribs and tail. I put inside myself the last flowered bit of air and Armagnac in its lungs, the body of rainwater and berries. In there, too, is the ocean and Africa and the dip and plunge in a high wind. And the heart that bursts between my teeth.&rdquo

Armagnac is the chosen liquor in which the bird is drowned (literally). You know that outrage we asked you to save earlier Well, here&rsquos your chance to unleash it. Before the bird is drowned in brandy it&rsquos left in a dark box or closet where the lack of light disorients it and causes it to feed excessively. Once the bird is suitably obese, about three or four times its normal size, it&rsquos drowned, roasted and served hot. Ortolan is eaten by biting off the head first (or cutting it off) and then crunching the rest, bones and all, in a single mouthful in The Devil&rsquos Picnic, Taras Grescoe claims &ldquogastronomes... suck the bird&rsquos piping hot innards through its rectum&rdquo. As if to make the ritual even more sinister, diners traditionally cover their heads with a linen napkin as they devour the bird. Apparently, this allows them to inhale the bird&rsquos heady smell, to infuse both taste buds and nostrils with ortolan, but another story suggests the tradition was begun by a priest so ashamed by his gluttony he wanted to shield it from God.

Related Stories

No stories found.
Outlook Traveller