Chez Denise - La Tour de Montlhéry

This is one of Paris's hidden gems, if only they still served Ortolan!

When they did, indulge I did.

The birds must be taken alive; once captured they are either blinded or kept in a lightless box for a month to gorge on millet, grapes, and figs, a technique apparently taken from the decadent cooks of Imperial Rome who called the birds beccafico, or "fig-pecker". When they've reached four times their normal size, these; “lumps of fat”, are then grabbed (take them by the beak, and holding it close between your finger and thumb) drown in a snifter of Armagnac.

Cooking l'ortolan is simplicity itself. Simply pop them in a high oven for six to eight minutes with a little lard and serve (may be cover’d or strew’d with Bread and Salt, and eaten with Salt and Orange). The secret is entirely in the eating. First you cover your head with a traditional white linen cloth. Then place the entire four-ounce bird into your mouth. Only its head should dangle out from between your lips. Bite off the head and discard. L'ortolan should be served immediately; it is so hot that you must rest it on your tongue while inhaling rapidly through your mouth. This cools the bird, but its real purpose is to force you to allow its ambrosial fat to cascade freely down your throat.

When cool, begin to chew. Work your way through the breast and wings, the delicately crackling bones, and on to the inner organs. You can taste the bird's entire life as you chew in the darkness: 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, burst in a liqueur-scented flower on to your tongue.

Drink: Bordeaux.

This could well be a contender for my forthcoming dinner party.