Sunday 11 May 2014

Episode 11 Ko ko Mono


Surrounded by the scent of death
Yet singing 


     This episode is named for Ko ko Mono, the course of preserved vegetables that signals the beginning of the end of the Kaiseki dinner. Its crisp textures and aromatic vinegared flavors sharpen the senses and prepare the diner for the final courses. Please pass some to Alana.

Not all background actors are boars and dummies but here is a couple waiting outside the studio for their scenes to start

Ortolans, then and now

   I have known for some time that ortolan will be on the menu at Hannibal’s table. This lovely bird has frequent mention in Harris’ novels: as a child he hears them in the woods beyond Lecter Castle; he listens to their song at the Café de L’Este with Lady Murasaki; he hears them again trilling in the background of a threatening  phonecall – then releases them after he dispatches their hapless cager - the restaurateur who put them on the menu and his sister in the soup. I imagine these little songbirds flitting from room to room like yellow moths in Hannibal’s Memory Palace.

     Ortolans are tiny songbirds no bigger than a man's thumb. Unfortunately for their species they are delicious. Now illegal to sell for the purposes of eating, they are famous as food of gourmands through the ages. They are captured live and force-fed til they are bloated. Not with a feeding horn, as are foie gras geese and ducks, but by taking advantage of their instinct to feed voraciously at night. Romans used to blind the birds so they would think it was night and feed endlessly. Now, they are merely put in covered cages and fed nuts and fruit. When they become so bloated they cannot move, they are quickly drowned in Armagnac, then plucked and roasted whole - they are eaten in one mouthful - bones guts and all. The little head with the brain and the crispy beak is thought to be the best part. Traditionally, one covers one's head with a cloth napkin while eating the bird so God will not see you engaging in such debauched indulgence.

My sketch sent to Heads of Departments prior to shooting

    The early draft of the script has the food scenes fleshed out so I have already been working on the cooking and eating of ortolans. The problem I have is that eating the bird is illegal. I couldn’t buy one let alone the two dozen I would need for the dining room scene. And as dedicated as I am to this show, I am not going to get a bb gun and hie to the hills of Gdansk to bag them. Besides, Mads and Hugh may not be up for chomping their way through several pounds of whole baby birds. 

    I need to make ortolan fakes. The birds they used in Babette’s Feast were made of marzipan – the ones in Gigi must have been quail – judging by the size. Ortolans are not much bigger than a man’s thumb.

Faking the songbirds

     I don’t want to make them out of marzipan because it would be a horrible thing to ask Mads and Hugh to eat that much hot, sweet, gummy almond paste. (Hot, because they will, like Freddie-in-a-wheelchair, enter flaming.)
Some sad examples of what not to use: gnocchi, solid potato, gefilte fish

    There must be something that tastes neutral but can be sculpted to look like a little roast bird. I experiment: carved potatoes have promise but fall apart after cooking…gefilte fish has the wrong texture…gnocchi shows promise until the revised script comes in saying that Hannibal “lifts the bird by the head and puts the body in his mouth…then draws the head and beak into his mouth blithely crushing them between his molars.” None of the things I have been working with are solid enough for that. The slightest pressure would cause the head to crack off and roll across the table.
When all else fails, use marzipan

     So with the deadline nearing, I decide that marzipan is my best alternative. Mads and Hugh will just have to act like they are enjoying it. I carve a little wooden cradle for forming the birds – so they won’t have flat backs – and cut up a square of fiberglass mesh from a window screen to press against the marzipan to make the skin texture. Pine nuts for eyes and spaghetti for the little legs. I make them hollow so they will be a little easier to eat.

Testing the flame colour of various flammable substances - hmmmm overproof rum, brandy or lighter fluid?

Decorated tray ready to go out with Buddy and Pedro in the pan. I named the two "ortolans" after a pair of penguins at the Toronto Zoo who were internet stars a few years ago for their ill-fated love affair..

Acting delicious…

     The shoot goes well. I’ve planned to accompany the ortolans with oysters and foie gras – just like the last controversial meal of Frances’ President Mitterrand before he died of cancer. And although Mads and Hugh hate the marzipan, they do the scene beautifully sending my hand-made baby birds to a fiery sticky death by cognac flambe – eating them whole imagining the crunchy bones, guts, Armagnac-filled lungs --  take after take after take.
oysters on barnacles and fake ice crawling with crayfish

Torchon of wine-cured foie gras decorated with butterflies (Will) and peacock feather eyes (Hannibal)
     The kitchen scenes will be shot in tomorrow by 2nd Unit. So I have to head back to my studio kitchen and make another flocking bunch of the baked buntings overnight.

Second Unit has a different vibe.

     Usually, I work with Main Unit because the dining room scenes are long and involve dialogue. Second unit does close-ups or pick-up shots --  quick sequences that will be cut into the main action -- usually shot MOS (without sound) with a much smaller crew. The atmosphere is comfortable and intimate. The team works fast and tight. 

     If Main Unit is an opera house, 2nd Unit is a downstairs jazz club. I will enjoy the low-key pressure of playing by ear. Chris Burne is directing so he will be spinning LPs on an old turntable while we shoot his inventive angles. It’s nearing the end of the season so the editors have a long list of close-ups and inserts they need to polish the final edits.  I’ll tell you all about it in a couple weeks. 
Another batch of ortolans prepped for next day's 2nd Unit

But now, it’s time to cook!

PUT THAT BUDGIE BACK!!! We are not roasting tiny tweeters! That’s just wrong. Here’s a recipe for the next best thing: Quail. Which are perfectly legal and can be easily and inexpensively  purchased reassuringly headless, clawless and totally gutless on a Styrofoam tray. Stuffed with sweetbreads to give your dinner that Hannibal touch.

Quail Stuffed with Sweetbreads

3 mains or 6 appetizers

1 lb       Sweetbreads
4 Tbsp  Butter
1 cup    Onions, dices
½ cup   Celery, diced
 1 cup   Mushrooms, diced
1 tsp     Fresh thyme leaves
1 tsp     Green onions, chopped
2 Tbsp  Red wine
pinch    Ground nutmeg
             Salt, Pepper to taste
6           Quails
3 slices Bacon, halved
6 pc      Butcher’s string

1. Soak sweetbreads overnight in water. Drain and rinse well. In a medium-sized saucepan, cover sweetbreads with cold water and bring to boil over high heat. Turn heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold water to stop cooking. Peel off membrane and connective tissue. Chop coarsely and set aside.

2. In a large sauté pan, melt butter over medium-high heat. Add onions and sauté for 2 minutes. Add celery and sauté for another 2 minutes. Add mushrooms and saute until juices have evaporated and mixture is fairly dry. Remove from heat. Add chopped sweetbreads, thyme, green onions, wine, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly and allow to cool.

3. Preheat oven to 400°F (200°C). On a baking sheet, crumple a large sheet of foil so it forms 6 evenly spaced shallow “nests” on which to balance each quail. This will keep the quails upright and ensure even browning.

4. Using paper towel, dry the quail inside and out. Sprinkle salt and pepper inside and out. Stuff the cavity of each quail with sweetbread mixture. Thread a toothpick through each cavity opening to keep stuffing from falling out. Tie legs of each bird together with string. Place quails on prepared sheet and place one piece of bacon on top of each bird. Roast for 15 to 20 minutes or until browned. Rest for at least 10 minutes, remove string and toothpicks and serve. Flambe them at the table if you wish with warm cognac or brandy.

  If you flambe these birds, raise a glass to Freddie Lounds – the bait in the lure. It’s really really hard for that outspoken redhead to play dead. I got a message from her saying she was hiding out at Will’s place – finding only Steinbeck, Hemingway and fishing magazines his bookshelves – so nothing much for her to do except play with the dogs…

Next week: what’s black and white and read red all over?

More of you have been cooking and sharing: 

Frittata by Christian
Christian S sent along this photo of his deliciously fresh looking frittata with shrimp!

Lounds-o Saltado made by Rosendo

Rosendo M went to university in Perú and writes: "You can imagine how wide-eyed I got when Hannibal decided to cook this. Followed your directions and this came out easily one of my best plates. Can't wait for season 3!"

Maru's Osso buco - love the stag onthe risotto dish
And dessert in the same red white and green Italian theme - Maru's Dolce Vita

Maru made the ossobuco with risotto milanese and reports "added sauteed green asparagus (because I felt there had to be more veggies, especially green ones.) As a dessert, to go with the red-white-green Italian theme, I combined flourless white chocolate cake, raspberry and kiwi with cranberry sauce, chopped pistachios and whipped cream.

yummilicious lamb's hearts on mashed potatoes from Arron and Emma in Leicester

Arron and Emma try their own ideas for a Hannibal themed dinner for two each week. Arron says,"First week we made Bacon wrapped lambs heart with Broccoli and Mash potato (We Brits love our mash!) and Emma made a lovely blood cherry cheesecake." 

Arron's helping hand in the pate-making
ready for the oven

Emma's blood-drizzled cheesecake
Next week Arron decided to go all out and made a whole arm feast! He describes, "Stuffed Pork loin with Cumberland and apple sausage stuffing and a sausage hand based upon my own! We served it with honey roasted figs, baked apple and grapes, with Dauphinoise potatoes, asparagus with cheese and dried bacon. Emma made a lovely lemon tart that also went well with the honey roasted figs & crème fraiche." 

Thanks for sharing your Hannimeals - you continue to amaze me with your ability!!!
pix to:

 Unless otherwise stated, all content copyright Janice Poon 2014 


  1. You know, Janice, Buddy and Pedro were reunited ;D

    1. Sadly, I guess they couldn't get the magic back -- Brokeback Iceberg was just for that one crazy winter.

  2. Wow thank you so much for the feature Janice! You have put a smile on both Emma's and my own face's! We are actually from Leicester, UK and my surname is Manchester XD Not to worry the confusion happens often :P We are continuing to be very inspired by your wonderful work, though I think we might have to draw the line at drowning poor little birdies! (Though I do enjoy marzipan) Very grateful for the mention, all the best!

    Arron Manchester & Emma Beardmore :)

    1. Oops! That's what I get for writing my posts in the middle of the night...I'll put that correction in. Keep making your beautiful food art!

  3. I love Aron 's approach to finger food. :)

    1. I found it disarmingly charming...

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Can't wait to try your quail and sweetbreads! Fascinating, reading about the process of making the ortolans. I was wondering when they would be making an appearance and the moment I saw them on the show, I was really looking forward to your post. Thanks again for doing this.

    1. Hi Alex-
      Shooting the ortolan scenes was a lot of fun. Mads and Hugh did an amazing job eating bite after bite of marzipan birds - acting as if they were hot roasted ortolans. Hugh also ate quite a bit of foie gras that day - it was the side dish.

      I'm going to put the quail recipe in the Hannibal cookbook which I'm working on now. Instead of sweetbreads, you could also stuff the quail with morcilla - the Colombian kind which I think has more rice than the Spanish kind.

  5. Oooh! Following you is going to be a real joy. Now it's time to look for the pilot episode's protein scramble and Freddie's salad. Thanks Janice!

  6. Hi Heather
    Recipe for both Protein Scramble and Freddies Carrot Slaw will be in my Hannibal cookbook coming out Oct 2016. Called Feeding Hannibal: A Connoisseur's Cookbook.

    Hope you've been enjoying rewatching Hannibal and cooking along with the cannibal!

  7. Hi Janice! Well that's a definite purchase. I look forward to reading and sharing it. Thank you so much for lending your genius to Hannibal.

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  11. Hey Janice, not sure you'll see this buried amongst the damn spammers! But just wanted to let you know I still often brag about being featured on your blog and share your absolutely stunning creations with people.

    It's funny really, it's been many years now and I'm with a new partner who is just getting to this episode so of course I will show her your work!

    Is there elsewhere I can follow your work? Perhaps Instagram or similar?

    All the best, hope you are well.
    Arron Manchester

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