ortolan substitute

Want to try Haughey's 'sadistic' songbird dish? Here's a vegan version of it...

You won’t need to force-feed any tiny animals for this version. Or drown them in Armagnac for that matter.

IT’S UNLIKELY YOU’LL find a restaurant in Ireland — or pretty much anywhere else in Europe for that matter — serving ‘ortolan’.

The controversial songbird delicacy featured in a key scene in last night’s ‘Charlie’ drama.

In a difficult-to-watch sequence in the mini-series, then-Taoiseach Haughey is depicted engaging in a gruesome ortolan-eating ritual alongside French President François Mitterrand.

“It is cruel and it is beautiful,” the French leader says — as his Irish dining-mate scoffs the poor animal whole with a napkin over his head (that’s how it’s supposed to be done, apparently).

The delicacy was a favourite of the late President (he even demanded the dish on his death bed, apparently). However, in 2007 the French Government vowed to strictly enforce measures outlawing poaching of the birds, after a dramatic drop in numbers.

Killing and cooking ortolans is now banned across the EU.

AP / Press Association Images AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

If you were intrigued by last night’s scene — and felt like you might like to try an ortolan for yourself just to see what all the fuss is about, the closest approximation you’re likely to manage (short of bribing a rebel French chef) is the below vegan version, from the Dublin Science Gallery website. 

Masterminded by the the Center for Genomic Gastronomy and the Special Snowflake Studio USA, the recipe forgoes any force-feeding or drowning in Armagnac of tiny birds, in favour of a complex dried fig and tofu concoction.

“What better way to challenge the skills of a chef than to create a vegan recipe which simulates the experience of crunching through the skin, guts and bones of a small bird, without using any animal products?”

Good point, Science Gallery.

The vegan version is still intended to be consumed the traditional napkin-over-the-head way, apparently. All the better to “keep the flavours in, and to hide one’s shame from God”.

If you want to give it a whirl — here’s what you’ll need:

1 package of Inari fried tofu pockets
[or aburaage, fresh, frozen or canned fried tofu skin]
150 ml Armagnac, eau de vie or brandy
16 dried figs
1 red onion
1 bottle Belgian ale
4 g hops flowers
16 thin slivers of preserved lemon plus
preserved lemon brine to taste
4 umeboshi, Japanese pickled plum,
pitted and chopped [optional]
60 g Shiitake mushroom
16 g firm tofu
240 ml unsweetened almond milk
3 cloves of garlic
10 x 10 cm piece of seaweed [preferably Konbu or Wakame]
Almond oil
10 g sugar
200 ml soy sauce
5 tbsp mirin
5 tbsp sake
1 package vegan crispy Asian chow mein noodles
2 package vegan dried ramen noodles

You may need to venture a little further than your local Spar for the above, obviously.

And once you’ve that lot together, the cooking method is still pretty involved (full details here).

Anthony Bourdain photocall - London Anthony Bourdain Ian West Ian West

Here’s what the real thing is supposed to taste like, according to US chef Anthony Bourdain:

“With every bite, as the thin bones and layers of fat, meat, skin, and organs compact in on themselves, there are sublime dribbles of varied and wondrous ancient flavors: figs, Armagnac, dark flesh slightly infused with the salty taste of my own blood as my mouth is pricked by the sharp bones.

As I swallow, I draw in the head and beak, which, until now, have been hanging from my lips, and blithely crush the skull.”



The vegan version it is, so.

Read: So, was episode two of Charlie actually any good?

Also: Opinion: Charles Haughey’s election as Fianna Fáil leader – the Northern Ireland factor

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