In My Mind’s Mouth – Chirp and Slurp


“Between 1775 and 1818 there lived and flourished (more or less) in Malta, Naples, Paris, and elsewhere, a notable composer, Nicolo Isouard, more generally known as Nicolo. He wrote many operas, all of which are now forgotten. Having lived in Naples he was a great macaroni eater, and prepared the dish himself in a somewhat original manner. He stuffed each tube of macaroni with a mixture of marrow, pate de foi gras, chopped truffles, and cut-up oysters. He then heated up the preparation, and ate it with his left hand covering up his eyes, for he asserted that he could not afford to allow the beautiful thoughts engendered by such exquisite food to be disturbed by an extraneous mundane sight. No wonder he died young.”

—From The Greedy Book by Frank Schloesser 

Whether you find such reports enticing or disgusting depends, I\’d venture, on what state your appetite is in. But can you deny the appeal of the idea? A little stolen moment of opulence. A mouthful of something tasty and rare, even if only on special occasions, confirms that we\’re not just surviving here – we\’re sometimes actually living.

Thus, my newfound revelation about red Burgundy. Everyone who has shopped for it or ordered it in fancy French restaurants knows it is prohibitively expensive and frequently disappointing. Of all wines in the world to collect, it is undoubtedly the riskiest and most foolish investment. It is fickle, mercurial and downright thin in most vintages. But have you ever had a good one? Ah yes…..that\’s living.

Try this. Acquire a pair of Cornish game hens and rub them inside and out with fresh butter, salt and pepper. Then sauté a chopped shallot with ¼ lb of wild mushrooms and some herbes de Provence in a frying pan, about 3 min. Toss with plain bread crumbs and a dash of Cognac; stuff the cavity of the birds with the mixture, and roast them at 350º for just shy of an hour, until the skin crisps and the juices from the leg run clear. Serve with buttered potatoes or noodles and a pot of good French mustard.

To be honest, you could serve almost any wine here-red, white, pink or even Champagne. As I\’ve seen one wine shop in New York City cheekily advertise: ALL WINES GO WITH CHICKEN. True. But the darker meat of a small hen, especially if it has the sinew and pasture-fed gaminess of a free range bird, conjures mid-weight, earthy reds to me. In this case, the mushrooms seal the deal. Pinots from Burgundy-silken, fragrant and savory-both flatter and are flattered by this dish.

These days, decent Burgundy starts at about $20 for a basic villages-level Bourgogne. Good Burgundy with a name you might recognize starts at $35. For $50 and above, the 1er Cru and Grand Cru selections open up. It\’s no bargain, but for a wine of such scarcity and devotional allegiance, it\’s not unreasonable either. The real question to ask, as you pick the price and quality of your wine is how do you feel about your dinner guests?

Once you\’ve committed to the region and the expenditure, there is the choice of appellation to consider. The first decision is easy. While the wines from the Cotes de Nuits in Burgundy\’s northern half are generally the stars, their black fruit flavors and sturdy structures seem to me a little rich for poultry. They share more of an affinity for red meats, whose blood mingles with their molten iron core. Among the lighter, brighter, southerly Cotes de Beaunes lie the wines that seem designed for a chicken dinner.

So which Cotes de Beaune works best? Pommard has a gutsy earthiness that I admire and Savigny-les-Beaune lures with its light, treble clef jazz; but the satin elegance and cherry-sweet warmth of Volnay seems the most poetic match for these tender little birds. The wines are consistently fine, too; the unusually high number (34) of 1er Cru vineyards in Volnay means the chance of getting wine from a good site is high.

Some great organic producers include Roblet-Monnot (biodynamic), Michel Lafarge (organic), Jean-Marc Bouley (organic), and Hubert de Montille (organic). Sustainable viticulturists from the old school include Joseph Voillot and Francois Buffet.

The Roblet-Monnot Volnay \’St Francois\’ 2006, crafted by Pascal Roblet-Monnot, is especially intricate and wonderful. Pascal’s family has vines predominantly in Volnay, and in Pommard as well. I have not tried it yet with game hens, but a bottle I opened one night with a rib-eye steak, smothered in duxelles and a bundle of buttered asparagus was ravishing. All through dinner, I instinctively held my left hand near my eyes…


One response to “In My Mind’s Mouth – Chirp and Slurp”

  1. Brixu Avatar

    Can you please tell me where I can find the above quoted information regarding Nicolo Isouard?


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