The process of cooking an ortolan is quite disturbing. Ortolans are small, rare song birds. Preparing this dish involves multiple steps. Ortolans are kept in the dark so they would perpetually eat and then drowned in a vat of Armagnac (French brandy). Before some genius invented the box, the Romans actually poked out the eyes of the ortolans so the birds would think it was night time. The birds are then cooked with an open flame for roughly eight minutes.
Almost stranger than the dish itself is the ritual of eating it. The diner covers his or her head with a large napkin to shield themselves from God’s eyes because of the shame of eating such a innocent bird. Then the diner eats the entire bird whole — one gulp and all.
Those who have tasted ortolan rave about the hazelnut and gamey flavors.
The most famous fan of the bird was President Mitterrand, who, just days before he died from prostate cancer, hosted an epic meal on New Year’s Eve in 1995.
Author: Anna Amiryan