The sun is mak­ing a more reg­u­lar ap­pear­ance, the BBQs have been scraped clean and Tim Mad­dams has a de­li­cious pi­geon recipe to tempt our taste­buds

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We are very funny about BBQs on the whole in the UK. We seem very happy with the idea of sausages, burg­ers and even, these days, some pulled pork, but rarely any­thing on the bone.

Now, as most cooks will tell you, meat or fish cooked on the bone of­ten has a bet­ter flavour than that cooked off the bone. So, here’s an idea!

We all love a pi­geon breast, and I know it’s a sim­ple, clean, quick and con­ve­nient way to deal with the birds – par­tic­u­larly if you are lucky enough to live where there are plenty of them – but the younger birds re­ally are bet­ter cooked on the bone. They are ten­der and del­i­cate enough to make it re­ally worth­while, and this recipe will work very well in­deed – it’s a fin­gers dish though, none of that cut­lery non­sense, please.

You are all ex­pert pi­geon shots I am sure, so I won’t bore you with the de­tails of how to recog­nise a younger bird, but for those of you new to the sport these are the ones with­out the neck bar, with a slight brown mot­tling to the feath­ers and a sui­ci­dal ap­proach to the de­coys.

Once you have se­lected some lovely young spec­i­mens, pluck them and evis­cer­ate them in the usual way. This recipe will ben­e­fit from a lit­tle time in the mari­nade, but don’t let that put you off if you are a last minute kind of per­son – just crack right on and get them over the fire.

You will need some bay twigs for this recipe to work at its best. The way the aro­matic wood flavours the meat as it cooks is unique and there is no other way to get that flavour, so find a bay tree and make your­self some stout skew­ers for the spatchcock job.

And, just to be clear, a bar­be­cue is a live fire or smoul­der­ing coals, it is never a gas grill. Ever!


4 young pi­geons, plucked and dressed 8 small bay wood skew­ers 2 ta­ble­spoons of rape seed oil 1 tea­spoon cracked green pep­per­corns a lit­tle chopped rose­mary, thyme and mint salt 3 cloves of gar­lic, sliced


1 lemon 1 clove of gar­lic 1 sprig each pars­ley, basil, mint and co­rian­der a good pinch of garam masala 2 ta­ble­spoons rape­seed oil

Plus a nicely burned down char­coal BBQ.


Be­gin by spatch­cock­ing your young birds. I do this sim­ply by us­ing a stout pair of scis­sors and snip­ping up each side of the spine. Then, place the spine­less bird breast-side up on a chop­ping board and press down firmly to flat­ten it out a lit­tle. You may need to crack the breast bone from the in­side with a knife, but you also may not.

Us­ing your lovely bay tree skew­ers – or what­ever you pre­fer – spit the flat­tened bird cross ways so that it will stay flat over the fire. This may re­quire you to punc­ture holes in the birds us­ing a knife as you go – bay is not the stiffest of twigs I have ever come across – but you will find your way eas­ily enough.

Now, mix the gar­lic, rose­mary, thyme, mint, green pep­per­corns and salt with the rape­seed oil and smear this all over the birds. Leave them for a while if you can.

To make the dress­ing, just chuck all the in­gre­di­ents in a blender and whiz them up to make a paste. Sea­son as re­quired – with some chilli if you like?!

Cook the birds over the coals un­til just cooked – turn them a bit, but not too of­ten. I tend to start them breast-side up so the car­cass is heat fac­ing and, once flipped, you may find you need to prop them up against each other to get at the edges and achieve a good even cook. Don’t overdo them – they will be a bit livery if you do. Leave them some­where warm to rest for a few min­utes and then tuck in with some of the dress­ing on top.

Some­times, I will pull the meat from the bones, dress with a lit­tle of the herb paste and stuff into a pitta bread – but only if I am feel­ing very re­fined at the time. Mostly, I just tear them from the bones like a mad­dened cave dweller… it’s rather sat­is­fy­ing.

BBQ spatchcock pi­geon

Skewer the birds with bay twigs so that they lie flat on the bar­bie

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