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Forbidden foods...Ortolans and such.


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#1 Bruce Cole

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Posted 09 February 2004 - 11:29 PM

My question for Robb and the panel has to do with forbidden foods.

For no particular reason, I’ve been kind of obsessed with Ortolans lately, namely, the act of eating one. It seems to me, that as a menu item, Ortolans would be quite a best seller. "A hush comes over the dining room as the waiters dash out the kitchen with a sizzling ramekin and place it before a wide-eyed diner. They ceremoniously drape his head with a white kerchief, and the whole room stares as the diner gingerly picks up the little roasted bird and under the cover, plops it in his mouth…the room erupts in applause 15 minutes later when the diner removes his mask...”

My obsession has even carried me to the point where I’ve considered trying to catch a few finches in the back yard, fattening them up in my garage, and then serving them to a few foodie friends, a la roasted Ortolans. Imagine my chagrin when I figured out that it’s illegal. Killing songbirds that is. Go figure. Kind ruins my idea for an award winning article on roasted songbirds right there.

So, since the chances of me ever actually plopping one of those crunchy little tidbits in my mouth is pretty remote, I'm wondering if any of you ever had Ortolans? Are they all they are cracked (pun intended) up to be? Even though eating them is illegal (in France and the U.S.), would you consider trying one, just for the experience?

Are there other foods that you would consider forbidden, or that are actually illegal to eat - but you’d still be willing to eat them?

Shark fin soup comes to my mind. Completely appalling how the fins are obtained, since they just chop them off, and toss the bleeding body of the shark back overboard. It should be illegal. I certainly consider it a forbidden food. I don’t think I could ever bring myself to eat them, and I would eat just about anything in the name of food...I think.

#2 John Whiting

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Posted 10 February 2004 - 12:04 AM

For a start, given Robb's fascinating speculations on the sacred aspects of diet, we should distinguish between foods which are ritually prohibited because they are unclean, those which are the exclusive right of an elite, such as sacred mushrooms, and those which have been outlawed in modern times on humanitarian grounds, such as ortolons.

About to fall into the latter category in both Israel and the EU is traditional foie gras. The force feeding of geese is to be outlawed by around 2010 or thereabouts; I state this vaguely because the dates presently set by both legislatures are likely to be extended.

So far as I know, nothing has been said of ducks, which is ironic inasmuch as they can be factory force-fed under extremely cruel conditions which are fatal for geese. It may have something to do with the fact that duck foie gras is so much cheaper and more widely accessible; no doubt the rich will continue to have a source of supply for goose livers, as with Havana cigars in Washington D.C.
John Whiting, London
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#3 Robb Walsh

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Posted 10 February 2004 - 06:45 AM

I will make the decision when somebody offers me an ortolan.

Likewise, what do you say when somebody offers you a plate of out of season game that they just poached? It's wrong. But wild duck gumbo seems to taste better when the duck is out of season. (I tell myself they got it out of the freezer.)

The lure of the forbidden is powerful.

As for the force feeding, I have visited a foie gras farm at feeding time. They were ducks rather than geese. When the farmer sat down in the chair, the ducks began jostling each other, trying to be first in line to get force fed. Suffice to say, the ducks don't seem to have any problem with it.

Edited by Robb Walsh, 10 February 2004 - 07:58 AM.


#4 John Whiting

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Posted 10 February 2004 - 07:55 AM

As for the force feeding, I have visited a foie gras farm at feeding time. They were ducks rather than geese. When the farmer sat down in the chair, the ducks began jostling each other, trying to be first in line to get force fed. Suffice to say, the ducks don't seem to have any problem with it.

I've had that experience as well, with both ducks and geese. The factory feeding I was referring to is quite another matter, in which the ducks are held by machinery and fed on a conveyer belt. Treatment is so rough that there's about a 20% fatality rate. It's common in Eastern European countries, from which the livers are sent to France, where they are then processed, packaged and sold as a domestic product. I like to get my foie gras straight from a known farm. :sad:

My thoughts on foie gras are at http://www.whitings-...ssays/liver.htm
John Whiting, London
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Top Google/MSN hit for Paris Bistros