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Unusual and un-PC, but I have to know! Ortolan?

J.L. Jun 4, 2009 01:18 AM

Hello fellow 'Hounds,

I am curious about the eating of ortolan (ortolan bunting) in France, as it stands in 2009. I understand that it is illegal to sell ortolan, but I am uncertain about the rest of the story behind this gastronomic tradition.

Can someone shed some light?

As always, thanks in advance!

  1. f
    foodmonster Jun 4, 2009 01:33 AM

    1. Find ortolan
    2. Poke its eyes out
    3. Force feed it millet until it swells up to 3 or 4x it's normal size
    4. Drown it in cognac
    5. Pluck feathers (I'm surprised they don't do this while it's still alive, considering the brutality so far)
    6. Roast it whole
    7. Place in deep bowl
    8. Place napkin over head (to savor aroma and hide your shame from God)
    9. Insert into mouth, whole, with only beak sticking out
    10. Chew

    First you taste the skin/juice of the bird, which is supposedly amazing. Then you get the bitterness of the organs. Then the tiny bones begin to lacerate your gums and cheeks, and the resulting blood draw from your own mouth mixes with the bird and is part of the flavor. Many people spit it out. Apparently former French President Mitterand ate 2 for his last meal, then ate nothing for 8 days, then died.

    I highly suggest listening to Michael Paterniti's staggering, funny, and shocking tale about ortolan and recreating Mitterand's last meal. It's act 2 on the episode of This American Life linked below. Don't miss it!


    9 Replies
    1. re: foodmonster
      J.L. Jun 4, 2009 02:03 AM

      Merci! I'm familiar with the process, but the WHERE is what I'm interested in...

      1. re: J.L.
        PhilD Jun 4, 2009 04:35 AM

        I thought it was now illegal: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/world...

        1. re: PhilD
          J.L. Jun 5, 2009 05:53 PM

          Illegal in France, but how about outside France? Again, where can one legally try it?

          1. re: J.L.
            jumpingmonk Jun 6, 2009 04:45 AM

            I think they are caught in Italy too, but they may be illegal there also. I would also point out that according to waht I read it is currently not illegal to eat ortolans, just to sell them for eating, though that may change.

            1. re: jumpingmonk
              Big C Nov 25, 2010 11:34 PM

              i've heard you can get them in Monacco...

              1. re: Big C
                Naguere Nov 26, 2010 05:07 AM

                I once had a French hunting schedule, the only bird i can remember that came in to season at some time was the Skylark, how many of those would you need for 4 people?

                EU directive on skylark harvesting:

                3. Harvesting (3)
                Within the EU25, legal harvesting of Skylarks only occurs in five countries: France, Italy, Malta, Greece
                and Cyprus. Besides, sizeable numbers may be harvested in northern Spain. Hunting is carried out partly
                for food (3.1) and partly as a cultural and leisure activity

              2. re: jumpingmonk
                hill food Nov 28, 2010 02:45 PM

                jjmonk: that is also my impression and the only way you can get them in the States is to be invited to the annual French embassy and consulate dinners.

          2. re: J.L.
            Just Visiting Nov 28, 2010 03:46 PM

            In the U.S., it would be illegal for virtually every species of bird except a handful that are not protected by federal law. This would include English Sparrows and European Starlings. I am no animal rights type, but this is cruelty beyond the pale.

          3. re: foodmonster
            oiboy Dec 3, 2010 11:57 PM

            They are drowned in Armagnac not Cognac.

          4. s
            SherBel Nov 26, 2010 10:04 AM

            The New Yorker had an excellent essay on this very subject by Jonathan Frantzen in the July 26, 2010 issue. The title was "Emptying the Skies". Here is a link to the outline of the article, (you need a subscription to read the entire article. Note the watercolor image, please.)


            The article on this revolting "sport" of slaughtering these songbirds is very, very graphic.

            1 Reply
            1. re: SherBel
              litchick Nov 28, 2010 10:34 AM

              And for anyone who's interested in the episode from This American Life that was linked above -- that link is no longer good, but here's the redirect:


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