That Final Meal

At least in Pennsylvania, death row inmates can’t simply order whatever they want but, according to the York Dispatch, can select from a limited menu. As noted in Schott’s Food & Drink Miscellany (a book I highly recommend), a sample of some of the final meals requested in the state of Texas include “double cheeseburger, french fries topped with onions and cheese, baked potato topped with sour cream, cheese and butter, two fried pork chops, three beef enchiladas, and chocolate cake.” That was just one inmate’s request. Another ordered “one bag of assorted Jolly Ranchers” and still another asked for ice cream. But what did their victims have? Grim stuff, I know.

More to my liking are the final meal requests of the rest of us—Schott’s notes that François Mitterand reportedly had ortolans, those tiny birds that are illegal. When I asked the food writer Michael Ruhlman about steak sauces, he, in turn, framed the question this way:

I get asked all the time what my last meal would be, and I always answer the truth. Since we never know when the inevitable catastrophe of death will strike, it’s important to have your last meal as often as possible. Mine: Steak frites with a big California zinfandel. On the meat, I want some shallots and butter. I don’t want any fucking yuzu kosho mustard sauce. I want to taste the meat, hot-seared on the outside, bloody and raw on the inside, a little sweetness from the shallot and extra succulence from the butter, but nothing that distracts from the chewy juicy muscle of beef. The beef should have flavor—not tenderloin—but hanger or flatiron with it’s almost minerally iron livery finish.

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