Making History: Toulouse-Lautrec’s Recipe for Wild Pigeon with Olives

It’s wild game season at D’Artagnan! Hunted Scottish game birds are being delivered every week – and you’ve got to get them while you can. Pheasant, grouse, partridge and wood pigeon may be small birds, but the are full of flavor. Be a part of the seasonal tradition with this recipe for artist Toulouse-Lautrec’s signature dish of wild pigeon with green olives.  Bag your game birds and read on for the recipe.

The artist is known for his depictions of Parisian nightlife in the 1880s and 1890s, often seen as posters that promoted the dancehalls and nightclubs he frequented. But before he developed a taste for the bohemian life in Paris, he had an interest in the gustatory pleasures of life.

Toulouse-Lautrec 1
An English translation of Toulouse-Lautrec’s cookbook is out of print but can be found used.

An avid cook, Toulouse-Lautrec loved to get involved, and was not content to leave the process to the servants. Because of his strong ties to the cuisine and products of his Southern French heritage, he introduced the Languedoc style of cooking to the intelligentsia, fellow artists and denizens of fin de siécle Paris. He was also one of the most creative mixologists in France in his day and practically invented the cocktail snack.

Artists and Food

“The 19th Century was a golden age of French gastronomy,” explains the food and art historian Janine Catalano. “Parisian artists frequently depicted the pastimes of the modern world, and many of them centered around food and drink – from meals in restaurants to picnics in newly designed parks to the night-time entertainments of bars and cabarets. And, of course, the artists engaged in these activities themselves. Monet was a notorious gourmand – he was particularly fond of morel mushrooms – and he would host generous picnics and dinner parties. His famous home in Giverny boasted not only water-lily ponds, but also acres of vegetable gardens and orchards.”

There’s a wonderful series of books by Jean-Bernard Naudin, dedicated to the recipes and kitchens of great artists (Monet’s Table, Cezanne’s Table, etc.). In Toulouse-Lautrec’s Table, the author tapped Chef André Daguin (father of D’Artagnan founder Ariane Daguin) to develop Lautrec’s quirky recipes into versions usable by modern cooks.

Toulouse-Lautrec Cooking
Henri Toulouse-Lautrec cooking by Édouard Vuillard, 1898.

Lautrec had some favorite dishes: onions stuffed with garlic puree, studded with cloves and braised in stock, lobster Americaine, leeks in red wine, and his chef-d’oeuvre: Pigeon with olives.

Anyone he thought pretentious or snobbish or suspected of wanting to sample the Lautrec specialty out of curiosity alone, he would unceremoniously turn away, giving as his reason: They are not worthy of the ‘ramereaux (pigeon) aux olives’ they will never have it, they will never know what it is.

Deana Sidney recreated this recipe on her blog Lost Past Remembered, so now you can make Lautrec’s signature dish at home with our wood pigeon.

Young Wild Pigeon with Olives

Deana Pigeon with Olives 2

Serves 4


wood pigeons (or Cornish hens or poussin)
8 oz ground beef (lightly sautéed)
8 oz  French Garlic Sausage (lightly sautéed, if it is not pre-cooked) or a mild pork/veal sausage
¼ tsp of nutmeg
1 tsp fresh marjoram and thyme (optional)
2 Tbs black truffle butter or regular butter
2 qt chicken stock
¼ cup Armagnac or cognac
3 oz butter
½ oz truffles (optional)
3 shallots
1 onion
3 strips of smoky bacon, chopped
Bouquet garni
10 oz green pitted olives
1 tsp molasses

  1. Take 4 pigeons and put a stuffing of sausage and meats and truffles (if you don’t have them use truffle butter or oil) seasoned with nutmeg, herbs and salt and pepper inside the little cavity.  Put the truffle butter under the skins of the bird… take care, for the skin is very fragile.  Salt and pepper the birds.
  2. Tie them up and let the pigeons brown in a heavy, shallow pan… mostly the bottom of the bird.  Remove them and put the bacon, shallots, and onion into a saucepan and sauté.
  3. Add salt, pepper, a bouquet garni. Put in the pigeons back in the pan, and let them simmer gently for ½ an hour with the saucepan covered. Add some pitted green olives that have been well de-salted (put them in a pan of water and boil them, then let them sit in freshwater) and add the Armagnac/cognac and cook for 10 more minutes.
  4. Heat the broiler.
  5. Let the birds braise well in the sauce and then remove the birds. Reduce the sauce. Take the molasses and a few tablespoons of the sauce and brush on the birds.  Stick the birds under the broiler to brown for a few moments to give some color to the skin.
  6. Serve the birds on a dish surrounded by the olives and the strained sauce that ought to be rich and thick.

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