macaroni or ortolan?

The Ortolan Bunting is a small European songbird, now a protected species that is illegal to sell in France. They used to be netted in great numbers, kept alive in a dark box to disrupt their feeding schedule, and fed with grapes, figs, oats and millet. In a very short time they would become enormously fat and were then killed by drowning them in Armagnac.

image found here

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 rapidly through your mouth. This cools the bird, but its real purpose is to force you to allow its ambrosial fat to cascade freely down your throat.

image found here

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. 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.

Francois Mitterand ate foie gras, oysters and two ortolans as his last meal

image of Mitterand found here

After grabbing the last of 12 birds, the dying president disappeared for a second time behind the large, white napkin, which is ritually placed over the head of anyone about to indulge in the act of eating an entire ortolan. The table listened in embarrassment as the former president masticated the little bird to a paste behind the napkin, in the approved manner, before swallowing it. Then Mitterrand lay back in his chair, his face beaming in ecstasy. He refused to eat again after that; suspending all treatment for his cancer he died just eight days later.

image found here

Prisoners on death row don’t seem to be the least bit interested in gourmet meals. A quick search of reveals a preference for pork chops, fried chicken, french fries, tacos and Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. Followed by strawberry ice cream and 16 or so Pepsis.

image found here

My last meal would consist of dishes that have great memories attached to them. I’d start with my mother’s Bluff oysters fried in beer batter followed by giant succulent Vietnamese prawns dipped in chili salt, the pumpkin stuffed ravioli in burnt sage butter that Stephen used to make, then brandy snaps filled with New Zealand cream, just like the ones we used to buy in South Dunedin’s cake shop near my old high school.

image found here

If you could choose anything at all, what would your last meal consist of?

Published in: on March 27, 2010 at 9:26 am  Comments (48)  
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  1. pulled pork barbeque, bacon wrapped scallops, and some decadent chocolate confection with gooey whippey cream and raspberry sauce all over it. cold beer with the BBQ, and a big ol’ slug of single malt scotch at the end of the meal.

    • Mmmmm… I’d eat all that, especially the scallops

  2. Home made oat cakes, unpasteurised stilton cheese, black olives, and maybe a wee smidgen of corned brisket of beef. To wash it all down with, several pints of cold German lager, each laced gently with a decent dram of a good single malt.

    …and for the love of god, make sure that the whisky is purchased in Scotland fae Biddy McFaddens wine lodge, and no that cheap foreign supermarket shite!

    • Jimmy I read recently that the owner of a famous Speyside malt once refuse to have the spider’s webs cleaned out of his distillery in case it affected the taste of his whisky. What do you think?

  3. I think the idea of eating an ortolan under a headscarf is a bit strange (well, they’re French), but my ideal would be to slip under her dress and eat Kate Winslet, with just a couple of glasses of Perrier-Jouet Fleur de Champagne Rose.

  4. I like my eating simple, and not involving things like instructions and putting things over my head.

    I think my last meal should be something really spicy, like Indian or Mexican food, so that when I’m getting strapped into the electric chair I can leave my executors a little aromatic something to remember me by before they throw the switch.

  5. Dime Bar Crunch ice cream from Equi’s in Hamilton, rhubarb crumble, mashed potato, foie gras, haggis. Though not necessarily in that order. And some antacid tablets.

    • I’m so looking forward to the foie gras when I hit France in June!

  6. I tend to lose my appetite under stressful conditions & I suspect contemplating my impending death would be one of those times. Perhaps a bowl of popcorn? I can always manage that! 😉

    • … with cava.

  7. I love catching vegetarians on the hop by asking this question and insisting they answer immediately – nearly all say “Bacon and eggs” …… I’ll go with them, followed by cheesecake and a malt whisky and cigar ….. [I’d smoke the cigar, not eat it ……. obviously]

    • Ha! I’ve been vegetarian for about thirty years, Daddy P and I would like a big bowl of Bircher muesli, a big glass of water with ice and lemon, and a black coffee.

  8. Peanut butter fudge and a twinkie (haven’t had either one in about twenty years… ’cause I’m savin’ ’em for my last meal).

    • Peanut butter fudge? I’d forgotten about that, have to add it to my list

  9. I was going to comment on the eating of the ortolan in your post about hyena genitalia etc. but I never got around to it.

    My last meal….I’d have to think long and hard about that but it would definitely come with lots of freshly baked and still slightly warm bread from a French artisan bakery spread generously with slightly salted real butter.

  10. Martini and escargot
    (Belvedere, icy cold, three olives)

    Beefsteak tomato and onion salad

    filet mignon
    baked potato
    2003 Clos Mogador Priorat (from Spain)

    Vin Santo with fresh biscotti

    1977 Colheita (Barros porto)

    One last Irish coffee made by one of the bartenders at Matt Molloy’s in Westport, Ireland.

    • The steak is medium rare, and I’d also want a Veuve Clicquot champagne cocktail with the tomatoes.

      • I love escargot, another dish to add to my list

  11. Being a veggie I won’t be eating an Ortloan. Give me a wild musroom risotto a tricolore salad. Follow it by my own weight in Baklava by way of a dessert

    • Are you a beetroot, Jams? I think I am a potato. Or maybe a head of broccoli.

      • Oh Synchy, I think of you as a cherry tomato – tiny and sweet with a hint of tartness and packed full of flavoursome goodness

      • Ha ha! You’re too kind. Only a hint of tartness?

  12. If I knew it were my last meal I don’t think I would have the heart for anything but spring water. I’d say Riesling, but I think I would want my head clear.

    The typical death row meal is a window into why someone ended up on death row in the first place.

  13. peyote.

    • Yes! Washed down with a margarita….

      • just one?

      • oh ok, since I won’t have to worry about a hangover…. I’ve never dared go past two before but I’m up for a third if you’re pouring

  14. A most unexpected post after returning from a day of birding with Audubon! 🙂 I have such crude taste–give me a cheese pizza and Baskin-Robbins chocolate chip ice cream for my last meal, and I’ll be happy. Knowing this, I remember feeling so….weird…a few years ago when I read that a death row inmate chose something similar as his last meal. Not that I ever was a big believer in cap. punishment, but this further humanized the whole thing… For some reason, that last meal question can really bond people unexpectedly!

  15. Easy…all you can eat buffet. Sorry can’t be killed yet, still haven’t stopped eating…just taking an 8 hour break.

  16. My, how times have changes. It’s getting harder to find folks willing to eat cock these days.

  17. *changed.

    I hate it when I Malach. Sorry.

  18. Chinese food, I think.

  19. Ugh. Your description of the l’ortolan meal is revolting. Is it true!? I can’t believe it. I suppose the next thing you’ll try to sell us is monkey brains.

    • I’m so sorry UB, it is true. But I’ll draw the line at writing about monkey brains

      • Oh. My. God. We are a bunch of barbarians. The last thing I need is more fuel to dislike French cooking.

  20. i wouldn’t eat ortolan.
    one has to assume one’s last meal at a prison would likely be disappointing. institutional food always disappoints. your mother’s bluff oysters fried in beer wouldn’t taste the same. so if i was in prison, i’d probably order a large ghirardelli milk chocolate bar and some fresh strawberries.
    otherwise, i’d have a freshly baked croissant with strawberry jam, fruit and coffee. and the ghiradelli milk chocolate.

  21. That Hasselhoff will do anything for a buck wont he?

  22. an extra spicy bloody mary to start

    a dozen pacific oysters and a glass of Cristal

    foie gras with roasted quinces and a glass of Perrier

    Luke Mangan’s licorice icecream and a glass of chateau d’yquem

    • Ooh foie gras with roasted quinces… we’ll be having that together in June won’t we?

      • absolutement!

  23. Sorry, I meant virgin mary. I hate vodka.

    I guess it doesn’t matter, but maybe one day someone will remember this post and I will be very grateful…

  24. What I’d like to eat doesn’t appear on the menu!

    The King

    • I thought you’d want targ and blood wine.

  25. OMG you just blew my mind with that pseudo-sexual pepsi ad featuring the Hoff (pun intended).

    Truly this is a golden age.

  26. Meat stuffed grape leaves with egg-lemon sauce, and big slap of feta doused in olive oil, and Greek salad and a big glass of retsina from Crete.

    • Sounds like you’re enamoured with Greek culture. I’m going to Greece in June/July. Have you got any tips for me?

      • Retsina is an acquired taste. A friend who lived in Greece introduced me to it. Just try a little and see if you care for it.

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