The French delicacy of roasted ortolan is being put on hold for a while as the songbird that is used for the dish is now classified as an endangered species. That’s good news for ortolans, sparrow-sized song birds that I’m sure most Americans would ever think of eating.
In fact, I was thrown for a loop reading about the traditions and process of eating roast ortolan. Here’s how the delicacy is supposed to go:
The bite-sized bird is killed by being drowned in armagnac, plucked and roasted with its yellow skin and skeleton intact. The French then shroud their head in a napkin to eat ortolan.
But it’s now officially off the menu in France. In 1998 a law was passed to ban the hunting of ortolans. Because the birds are so small, they’re not hunted with guns, but caught in traps hung in trees. Often, a secured male ortolan will be used as a decoy to attract females to the trap. Once caught, they’ll be kept live for a few weeks and fed to fatten them up before being consumed.
While ortolans, which migrate between Africa and Europe, are not endangered worldwide, the over hunting in France has greatly diminished their numbers. Penalties for private possession of an ortolan in France are a fine of up to $12,500 and six months in prison.
With its new black-market status, a single bird can now fetch between $140-$210.