I was on the Metro this morning headed to dance class and so as I tend to do to pass the time I was catching up on some podcasts that I ususally neglect until the weekend comes (and I laze around enough where I have time to just "listen" for like an hour.)
This morning I was listening to This American Life and I guess an episode from near Thanksgiving focusing on, I think poultry, anyway during the beginning when the episode is previewed there was a tease concernign the Third Act about a forbidden delicacy that Mitterand had as his "last meal." I was really intrigued but I never was able to get to that act and so was horribly distracted all during class (though you wouldn't have been able to tell since I am so amazing.)
I eventually made it back to my place and after a minimal amount of research (cough cough google) I discovered the ortolan and the more I read about it the more I decided that it would be my last meal as well. I'll post the information I found about it in a sec but for some reason I've always been a fan of ritual with my food or drink; it makes it seem more civilized to act in some traditional proscribed manner than to just stuff your face ( I kind of have issues with food and the idea of eating-eating seems so disgusting and animalistic and i would've hoped we would have moved or evolved some other way to deal with such necessitates. Of course that type of thinking led me to experiment with living just on vitamin supplements for like a week.) Also with the ortolan it just gives of the ear of something that would have been enjoyed in the court of the Sun King, that feel of nobility and eliteness as well as the fact it is illegal, as well as you drape a napkin over your head before eating appeals to my desire for gnosis in a way.
SO yeah here is what I found about the ultimate delicacy (besides the blood of a virgin, slightly chilled)
If guilt is a flavour, and it definitely is, then l'ortolan is one of
the world's greatest dishes. ….
The birds must be taken alive; once captured they are either blinded
or kept in a lightless box for a month to gorge on millet, grapes, and figs, a technique apparently taken from the decadent cooks of Imperial Rome who called the birds beccafico, or 'fig-pecker'. When they've reached four times their normal size, they're drowned in a snifter of Armagnac.
This sadistic mise en scene has transformed the bird from a symbol of innocence to an act of gluttony symbolic of the fall from grace. In
Collette's novel Gigi, for instance, the tomboyish main character
prepares for her entry into polite society with lessons in the correct
way to eat lobsters and boiled eggs. When she begins training to be a courtesan, however, she is said to be 'learning how to eat the
Not that it was only courtesans who indulged. The tradition
of covering one's head while eating the bird was supposedly started by a soft-bellied priest trying to hide his sadistic gluttony from God.
Cooking l'ortolan is simplicity itself. Simply pop them in a high oven
for six to eight minutes and serve. The secret is entirely in the
eating. First you cover your head with a traditional embroidered
cloth. Then place the entire four-ounce bird into your mouth. Only its head should dangle out from between your lips. Bite off the head and discard. L'ortolan should be served immediately; it is meant to be so hot that you must rest it on your tongue while inhaling rapidlythrough your mouth. This cools the bird, but its real purpose is to force you to allow its ambrosial fat to cascade freely down your
When cool, begin to chew. It should take about 15 minutes to work your way through the breast and wings, the delicately crackling bones, and on to the inner organs. Enjoy with a good Bordeaux.
What could be more delicious? Nothing, according to initiates, who
compare the banning of the ortolan to the death of French culture and continue to eat them at the risk of being fined thousands of pounds.
How could you not want to try it after that. And in a way the idea of blinding them, stuffing them and then eating them whole seems like a fairy tale, like you're the Witch in Hansel & Gretel.
Mitterand's last meal not for the birds
Dying of cancer, Francois Mitterrand ordered a last meal of oysters,
foie gras, capons and a tiny, yellow-throated songbird that is illegal
to eat and said to embody the soul of France. Esquire writer Michael
Paterniti provides a detailed account of the former French president's meal on New Year's Eve 1995 in the magazine's May issue. Mitterand died eight days later. Two-ounce ortolan birds were roasted and served to 30 people –Mitterrand's friends and family – as he sat at a table wrapped in blankets, Paterniti reported. Paterniti said he flew to France after hearing the story of how Mitterrand "had gorged himself on one last orgiastic feast before he'd died." He interviewed some of the guests and found a chef willing to recreate the dinner, right down to the illegal birds, according to the magazine's publicist, Dan Klores Associates.
Taking cover under a white cloth napkin placed over his head – "which is meant to heighten the sensual experience by enveloping you in the aroma of ortolan" – Mitterrand took the illegal delicacy and ate it whole, bones and all, Paterniti said
The ortolan's most recent brush with fame came in 1998, when it was revealed to have been a pivotal course in former French President François Mitterand's last meal. A week before dying of cancer, Mitterand ordered a grand feast for 30 that included oysters, foie gras and a long row of two-ounce ortolans. By some accounts, Mitterand polished off two, bones and all.
BUT how does it taste, you might ask
Devotees claim they can taste the bird's entire life as they chew in the darkness: the wheat of Morocco, the salt air of the Mediterranean, the lavender of Provence. The pea-sized lungs and heart, saturated with Armagnac from its drowning, are said to burst in a liqueur-scented flower on the diner's tongue.
Mitterand’s last meal was recreated and consumed by a curious American writer, Michael Paterniti. Here is his description of eating ortolan:
Here’s what I taste: Yes, quidbits of meat and organs; 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. It takes time. I’m forced to chew and chew again and again, for what seems like three days. And what happens after chewing for this long--as the mouth full of taste buds and glands does its work—is that I fall into a trance. I don’t taste anything anymore, cease to exist as anything but taste itself.
And that’s where I want to stay--but then can’t because the sweetness of the bird is turning slightly bitter and the bones have announced themselves. When I think about forcing them down my throat, a wave of nausea passes through me. And that’s when, with great difficulty, I swallow everything.
Here is Jeremy Clarkson trying an ortolan though it should be noted he’s not following the exact ritual (y’know he had the head cut off and didn’t take 15 minutes and all though to be honest I have a problem with eating things with heads, like how certain fishes are served)
When eaten, you pick the bird up by its beak and then you shove the whole thing in your mouth and bite. You everything but the beak, which you put back in the now-empty ortolan frying pan (in which the bird was served).
Mr Simon, who considers himself fortunate to have savoured the delicacy on several occasions, was enthusiastic.
He said: "It’s absolutely delicious: rather crunchy, with the texture and flavour of hazelnuts.
"The bird is about the size of a young girl’s fist. Some people begin with the head, others start with the rear end – there are competing opinions on how best to enjoy them."
He admitted, however that eating an ortolan whole was "quite monstrous" to watch. "Hence the napkins."
Once it has been fattened on millet, the captured ortolan is drowned in armagnac, plucked, and stripped of its feet and a few other tiny parts.
After roasting in a ramekin for eight minutes, it is brought to the table while its pale yellow fat still sizzles, for the diner to take whole into his mouth.
It comes painfully hot, says one who has sampled the forbidden flesh - "but the first taste was delicious, salty and savoury, swiftly followed by the delicate, incomparable flavour of the fat.
"By now it had cooled sufficiently to allow me to get the whole thing into my mouth. It was awkward, but not the struggle I had imagined. I was aware of fine bones but resisted the urge to crunch them immediately.
"Still sucking fat, I was aware of the richer, gamier flavour of its innards. I had been dreading this but the flavour remained delicate. Crunching the bones was like munching sardines or hazelnuts. I chewed a long time. When I finally had to swallow, I regretted the end of a very sensual experience."
I really want to try it so much. And the idea of the napkin, whether it be because having someone who is eating something whole would be disgusting to watch, or if it is to capture all of the aroma, or that originally a monk draped himself to hide his decadence from god or that "It is really like you are praying, see?" Palladin apparently said. "Like when you take the Mass into your mouth from the priest's hand in church and you think about God" well anything that has the mystique of communing with god and at the same time as being something to hide from God means I may be spending a few years in France questing.
And I now know my grail
“Mitterrand sank his head into the napkin surrounding the cooked bird to breath in its aromas.He literally ate this and was ready and happy to die; could there be any higher endorsement?
For the next 10 minutes his head stayed hidden as he ate his rich bird whole, crunching through its bones and innards, as is the custom. He then emerged "capsized with happiness, his eyes sparkling", according to M Benamou, and ready to face death”
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