Pesky pigeons make delicious dinners – and great broth, too
The woodland pigeon is a scoundrel and a thief. We might as well eat it. Scourge of allotment holders, farmers and gardeners, the wretched birds can spot a cabbage seedling at 200ft. They had my crocuses last spring. Except that is more likely to be its distant and distinctly undelicious London cousin. I first came across Serve-You-Right Pie in Margaret Costa’s Four Seasons Cookery Book . Made with beef, bacon and the breast and leg meat of the pigeon, it has long been on my wish list. “Tiny bones are maddening in a pie,” says Mrs C quite rightly. Mixing so many animals under the same crust is not my bag so I would use the bird alone, its meat made to go further with leeks and mushrooms.
The breasts are lean and therefore dry. The skin rarely crisps, especially if you have marinated the meat with olive oil, bay leaves and garlic. The answer to both conundrums is to cook the breasts briefly and off the bone, either on the bars of a griddle or in a shallow-sided pan with butter. I include crushed juniper berries for their aroma of gin-and-tonic, though I actually think they smell more like the original Eau Sauvage.
The bones are pure treasure. Bring them to the boil with water, bay leaves, celery, onion and plenty of peppercorns, then lower the heat and let them simmer for half an hour to a clear and subtle broth. Bolster the pale liquor with slices of steamed pumpkin, sautéed mushrooms or, as the ultimate delicious revenge, some of your home-grown cabbage.
Pigeon with chard, pears and juniper
There is a surprising quantity of meat on a plump pigeon breast. Cooked rare and sliced thin, you need just one bird per person if there are other good things on the plate. Greens, of course – soft folds of spinach or earthy chard, or sweet, buttersoftened cabbage leaves, are contenders. A spoonful of sauce, deepened with meat juices, softened with cream and given a kick with a sharp fruit jelly is both traditional and rarely bettered.
pigeon 4 pears 3 butter 30g olive oil 2 tbsp young chard 250g juniper berries 10 double cream 125ml redcurrant jelly 2 tbsp
Remove the breasts from the birds, reserving the carcasses for broth. Cut the pears in half lengthways and then in half again removing the cores as you go. In a large frying pan, warm the butter and oil over a moderate heat then lay the pears in single layer and let them cook until light gold. Turn and lightly brown the other side, checking that the fruit is tender before setting aside. Keep the pears warm.
Turn the heat up, place the pigeon breasts in the pan, adding a little more butter if necessary and fry until golden, turning once. Remove the pigeon to a small bowl and cover with a plate.
Let them rest for 10 minutes. Reserve the pan with its cooking juices.
Trim and wash the chard. Put the wet chard into a shallow pan over a moderate heat, cover with a lid and cook for 3 minutes until the leaves have wilted and darkened slightly. Drain and set aside.
Crush the juniper berries using a pestle and mortar. Warm the pigeon juices over a moderate heat, then stir in the cream, let it bubble briefly then stir in the redcurrant jelly and crushed juniper.
Put the rested pigeon breasts on a chopping board and slice each into two horizontally. Divide the chard between the plates, add the pigeon breasts and the pears, then spoon over the juniper sauce. ‹