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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

"They Actually Eat That:" Larks.

Ah, spring. OK, it's going into summer, but the weather is warm, the air is fresh, and the birds are still singing. Red-winged blackbirds usually greet me on my bike rides, but Europe has another bird with a much more beautiful song...that just so happens to be a delicacy.

Can you identify a lark bird from a long way away?


For those of you who are not disgusted enough by a songbird appearing in this column, that is a lark. Yes, larks are probably the most widely-eaten songbird in existence. Nearly every culture in Europe has some record of eating larks, from the Romans to the British. Lark tongues were always seen as particularly valuable (perhaps because the birds sing well). It's not like the rest of the bird was wasted, though; oh, far from it.

The traditional way to eat a lark is to eat it whole - bones and all. I would advise de-feathering and cooking it first. If this sounds familiar, look up "ortolan." Just think of the larks as mini-chickens once you're past the "oh my gods, I'm eating a cute little birdie!" stage and bite after they've been out of the oven for a bit.  Or you could always put them in pies.

This is a pigeon pie. The recipe is basically the same.


Lark pie is one of those very, very old-fashioned dishes that people love to collect recipes for. The idea is the same as any given meat pie, so if you know how to make that, good for you. If not, there are plenty of recipes. Depending on what recipe you pick, you may be asked to hunt down anywhere from nine to three dozen larks. Also, if you like, put a bit of liver forcemeat in the larks - as if handling dead larks was not mortifying enough.



Also, "lark's tongue in aspic"is a legend - even I'm not sure if this one is real or not. Somebody attempted to make it using oyster as a substitute for rare lark meat. It would not surprise me if, in the days when larks were plentiful, someone had indeed made lark's tongue in aspic. This would involve a lot of larks to pull tongues out of, however, and that's darn near impossible to do today.

It's a little hard to find lark today if you want to try it. We have so much meat now that we have little need to eat songbirds. Larks themselves are also becoming rare due to habitat loss. There are, however, still a few markets and restaurants in Italy (and Southern Europe) that make lark dishes. Good luck finding them; it felt like Google was trolling me while attempting research for this entry. Lark Creek Steakhouse does not serve lark, unfortunately.

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