Oiseaux Sans Tetes

In many European countries, but most often in France, menus feature dishes whose names would seem to indicate that they’re some sort of small birds. In fact, such a bird is a slice of some kind of meat (very rarely of avian origin) wrapped around some kind of stuffing. This is one of those dishes. Its name means “little birds with no heads” in French. This little joke has been around for a long time, and Europeans think it’s still funny. So do I, come to think of it–although it’s even more gratifying to eat.

The recipe seems a little complex, I know. But it’s not as hard as all that, and will impress your guests. Especially after you tell them the story of why these are called “birds.”

A classic veal bird.

A classic veal bird.

  • 1 1/2 lbs. baby white veal round, sliced across the grain into 12 medallions about 2 in. across
  • 5 Tbs. butter
  • 2 whole French shallots, chopped finely
  • 3/4 lb. ground veal
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 4 sprigs flat-leaf parsley, chopped
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • Pinch cayenne
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 Tbs. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. white pepper
  • 3 slices thin-sliced bacon, preferably on the fatty side, cut into four equal-length pieces
  • 1/2 cup off-dry white wine (i.e., Riesling, Chenin Blanc, Vouvray)
  • 1 tsp. chopped fresh thyme, or 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1 large carrot, sliced into the size of matchsticks
  • 1 rib celery, sliced into the size of matchsticks
  • 1/4 cup white raisins
  • 9 grape tomatoes, cut in half
  • Sprigs of parsley, tarragon, rosemary, or other fresh herbs for garnish

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

1. Put each slice of veal between sheets of plastic wrap. Pound with the flat side of a meat mallet until the slices are about half again wider. Avoid pounding all the way through. Set aside.

2. In a skillet, heat two tablespoons of butter over medium heat and cook the shallots until they’re soft–about a minute.

3. Put the contents of the pan into a bowl. Add the ground veal, beaten egg, parsley, 1/4 tsp. of salt and the cayenne. With a wooden spoon, stir all these ingredients until well mixed.

4. Divide the ground veal mixture into 12 equal portions. Roll each into a cigar shape about the size of a man’s thumb. Place a quarter-slice of bacon across it.

5. Combine the tablespoon of salt and white pepper with the flour, and stir with a fork to mix. Dust (don’t dredge!) the veal slices lightly on both sides with the flour mixture.

6. Place a ground-veal cigar across a slice of veal and roll it up. Shove a toothpick through the overlapping edge of the veal, in-out-in, sort of sewing it closed.

7. Put the remaining butter into a large, heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat. Add the remaining butter and heat until it bubbles. Place all the veal rolls into the pan and turn them every minute or so until they’re browned all around.

8. Move the veal rolls into a pan and out it in the preheated 350-degree oven.

9. Pour off any excess butter from the skillet, but don’t wipe the pan. Add the wine and whisk it over medium-high heat to dissolve all the veal juices and browned bits. After about a minute, add the thyme, carrot sticks, and celery sticks. Cook until tender (about one minutes). Add the raisins. Cook about fifteen seconds more. Add salt and pepper to taste, and remove from the heat.

10. Make two nests of the carrots and celery on each plate. Place one veal bird on each nets, then spoon the sauce over the birds. Garnish with the grape tomato halves and fresh herbs.

Serves six.

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  1. frank irizarry on February 18, 2014

    Love the blog but you have a lot of typos. I am a retired attorney and typos bother me. If you want someone to proof read the entries before you post them I would be happy to do so. I am also a very talanted home cook and would be able to spot errors in the recipes as well. I read cookbooks as if they were novels, I.e., cover to cover. Regards.