a french delicacy … the partridge (ortolan bunting) which is cooked by allowing the meat to begin to rot, then fried whole, and is eaten (beak, bones, claws and all) after a white napkin is placed over the diner’s head
usenet search, 29 hits circa 2009
All paradise opens! Let me die eating ortolans to the sound of soft music.
The ortolan is French country cuisine. Mentioned by 18th century French chef M. Massialot. Considered for centuries as the “abolute pinnacle” of French gastonomic experience.
My grandfather used to enjoy eating ortolans in Biarritz, sometimes in the company of Rudyard Kipling.
“My grandfather used to enjoy eating ortolans in Biarritz, sometimes in the company of Rudyard Kipling”: that’s the beginning of “Small is beautiful,” an article by Simon Courtauld published in The Spectator on Wednesday, Jan 10 2007. Courtauld explains why the woodcock is choice, and must be cooked with the head on — the brains are among the best eating.
Ortolan-eating in literature
Sentiment echoed by Robert Louis Stevenson: “To live reading such reviews and die eating ortolans — sich is my aspiration” (letter to W.E. Henley, mid-December 1883), from Selected Letters of Robert Loius Stevenson
Louis XVIII’s way of cooking them discussed in Romances by Alexandre Dumas and Auguste Maquet (1894) (v. 23) [PDF]
Mentioned in journal of William S. Burroughs (The Cat Inside?)
Now banned in “civilized” France?
(2007 upholding of law passed in 1999)
“France’s songbird delicacy is outlawed,” The Telegraph, Sep 10 2007
“Dainty morsel of songbird off the menu,” The Age, September 10, 2007
“The ortolan stirs up trouble behind a white napkin,” The Independent (London), Jan 11, 1997
“At a Secret Chefs’ Dinner in France, A Tiny Songbird Lands on the Plate,” New York Times, Dec 31, 1997
Francois Mitterand had them prepared for him (illegally) as his last deathbed meal
For further reading