Git Yo' Ortol On!! Ortolan Bunting. The Holy Grail of Extreme Cuisine. France.
In Search of Ortolon.
Snuggled up with a mug of freshly made pod coffee from my Keurig machine, I crack open a virgin copy of Tony Bourdain's new memoir Medium Raw. The prologue, titled The Sit Down, illustrates in singular Bourdain detail a gathering of gourmand gods and an orgiastic feast of outlaw ortolan. According to Christa Weil's Fierce Food, the Ortolan Bunting, as its officially known, is "a colorful, six-inch-long European migratory bird that is related to the American bobolink." It is currently illegal to hunt, serve or eat an ortolan in all of the European Union due to its endangered status.
Preparation of ortolan is both cruel and unusual, and yet that's how this extraordinary delicacy achieves its reputation as an extreme and life altering meal.
Traditionally, the cook gouges out the eyes of the ortolan, blinding it. Nowadays, the bird is placed under a covered cage in pitch darkness where it will be incessantly served oats and millet until it attains a succulent obesity. Upon becoming deliciously plump, it will be summarily drowned in Armagnac, further flavoring the tiny bird.
Having become a tiny, feathered packet of fantastic flavors, it is then plucked and roasted whole. The service is just as flamboyant, as was with Bourdain's ortolan experience, where Armagnac is doused onto the diminutive roast bird and presented en flambé.
Bourdain describes in his inimitable style that the experience was "wank-worthy" to chefs.
A much more lyrical account comes from Stewart Lee Allen, the author of In the Devil's Garden. Allen pens poetically a diner's ecstatic revelation upon piercing the crisp skin of the bird and "allowing its ambrosial fat to cascade freely down the throat...the bird's entire life...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." Ooooh, baby! I need a cigarette.
For those of you who don't appreciate sexy words to paint a picture of this verboten victual and would rather enjoy a YouTube vid of it, well, it's your lucky day. Just click play above for some seriously hardcore food porn and wank away.