This special post is for Benjamin Heller.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The ortolan is one of the dishes of French country cuisine. It is now against the law to sell them in France - but not to eat them.
For centuries, a rite of passage for French gourmets has been the eating of the Ortolan. These tiny birds—captured alive, force-fed, then drowned in Armagnac—were roasted whole and eaten that way, bones and all, while the diner draped his head with a linen napkin to preserve the precious aromas and, some believe, to hide from God.
Ortolans used to be netted in great numbers, kept alive in an artificially lighted, or darkened room to disrupt their feeding schedule, and fed with oats and millet. In a very short time they became enormously fat and were then killed for the gourmet French table. Once captured, the ortolan would traditionally be left in a dark box, where the lack of light would prompt it to gorge itself. When plumped up to three or four times its normal size, the bird would be drowned in a snifter of armagnac, then quickly roasted for six or eight minutes and served hot. The traditional means of eating the ortolan is whole — bones, innards and all, except the head or beak, which is bitten off — with the diner's head covered by a napkin.
One way French diners ate ortolans was to cover their heads and face with a large napkin for the gourmet's aesthetic desire to absorb the maximum odour with the flavor. This famous use of the towel was launched by a priest, a friend of Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin. Oh how French!