Saturday, April 05, 2014

The Bird King

Back in the day, they really knew about extreme cooking:
The true king of culinary absurdity comes from L’almanach des gourmands, an 1807 cookbook written by Alexandre Balthazar Laurent Grimond de la Reyniere, a man so outlandish he faked his own death to see who would attend his funeral. His creation was called the rôti sans pareil—the roast without equal—and it is everything that has made the half-dead art of engastration increasingly popular today: ambitious, ostentatious, and alluringly, inevitably delicious.

His recipe calls for a bustard stuffed with a turkey stuffed with a goose stuffed with a pheasant stuffed with a chicken stuffed with a duck stuffed with a guinea fowl stuffed with a teal stuffed with a woodcock stuffed with a partridge stuffed with a plover stuffed with a lapwing stuffed with a quail stuffed with a thrush stuffed with a lark stuffed with an ortolan bunting stuffed with a garden warbler stuffed with an olive stuffed with an anchovy stuffed with a single caper, with layers of Lucca chestnuts, force meat and bread stuffing between each bird, stewed in a hermetically sealed pot in a bath of onion, clove, carrots, chopped ham, celery, thyme, parsley, mignonette, salted pork fat, salt, pepper, coriander, garlic, and “other spices,” and slowly cooked over a fire for at least 24 hours.

For those not keeping track, that’s 20 layers, 17 of them birds, and a grand total of 18 creatures that had to die (assuming only one pig would be used to make the force meat, chopped ham, and salted pork fat) for the amusement of some turn-of-the-19th century dandies. And if that seems impossible, that’s because it is—today at least. Not because it’s scientifically impossible or there’s a lack of eager chefs in this world, but because many of the birds are now hard to find and kill. The bustard, for example, is on the brink of endangerment, and the consumption of ortolan bunting—a force-fed bird, killed by drowning in Armagnac, then parted from its feathers and feat and eaten freshly fried in one bite—is incredibly illegal and considered by some to be an affront to God. Despite that, ortolans still find their way to tables of the wealthy more than anyone wishes to admit, and those determined enough to find the desired ingredients for a rôti sans pareil could do so if they wanted. But of those professional chefs in the world who recreate old engastration recipes like this, none seem eager to use such blatantly illegal or unobtainable ingredients.
Which is kind of a shame, because such a gastric monstrosity might be fun to try at a cookout...

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