August 19th, 2010
Pot roasted pigeon recipe:
Allow one pigeon per person, a large cast iron casserole will fit about 4 – 6 birds, depending upon the size.
Pigeon are classified as vermin in Britain, so you should be able to find them in a decent butcher at any time of the year. By this I mean that there is no legal hunting season for pigeon. I would not suggest that you ate pigeon from Trafalgar Square, they really are vermin, what you need are wood pigeon, a far more sensible bird that eats vegetables, fruits, berries, grain etc. A far cry from their cousins in town who seem to like chicken bones and cigarette buts! I live in London and am amazed that both types of pigeon live here – the wood pigeon eats good food and the town pigeon seems to find the gutter more attractive – it’s very sad.
Unless you shoot pigeon yourself, the butcher will have plucked the birds and removed all the inedible parts. If the birds still contain their giblets, you can leave them in, they add flavour to the stock and are quite delicious.
I have a huge untreated cast iron frying pan. I often use it for browning meat before cooking. Heat the frying pan until it smokes, wipe it to remove any old resides, with kitchen towel and add some extra virgin olive oil (I normally have some to hand that has had some garlic and rosemary infusing in it for a month or so). Place your pigeon in the frying pan. Note that you are not trying to cook the meat, the intention is to brown it slightly, this adds flavour, but does not seal in the juices – a commonly held old fashioned theory. What you want to do is let the outside of the pigeon change colour and then turn it so that the exterior is no longer raw. A couple of minutes per side/surface in a very hot pan should suffice.
While this is going on you can be softening some chopped vegetables in your large Le Creuset casserole or similar. I suggest using the same vegetables, herbs etc. as per my vegetable stock recipe. You could also add some chopped mushrooms and tomatoes, but as long as you have carrots, celery and onions, you should achieve a good flavour. I often grind the herbs in a mortar and pestle, you can add them as they come, on branches or twigs, but rosemary in particular falls off the twig while cooking and becomes unpleasant to eat. Ground herbs can help thicken your stock and the flavour should be more pervasive. Start by softening some chopped onions, then add the carrots and celery, followed by garlic. A good flavour enhancer here would be the addition of some chopped, smoked, streaky bacon. Any extras, like tomatoes and mushrooms would be added last.
When the pigeons have been browned, remove them from the frying pan and add them to the casserole of vegetables. Deglaze your frying pan with a splash or red wine vinegar and half a glass of red wine – you want to allow this to cook for a few minutes, at a high temperature. The process allows you to take any flavours left in the frying pan to your casserole. Pour the liquid into your casserole on top of your pigeon. If you have a bare, cast iron frying pan, wipe it clean with kitchen towel, put it back on the heat, add a little oil and when it smokes rub the oil into the pan and remove any excess – it’s clean.
Make sure you have your oven turned on to about 120º C. Add as couple of glasses of red wine to your casserole , I like to add a small squeeze of anchovy paste and a tablespoon full of tomato puree. Add your ground herbs, plus a couple of bay leaves and a heaped tablespoonful of flour. Give everything a good stir – the four may go a bit lumpy but it will dissolve and thicken the liquid while cooking.
Bring your casserole to the boil and turn it down to simmer, put the lid on and put it in the oven. Cook your pigeon for an hour or so at 120º C. Before serving, skim off any fat or scum at the top of the pan and adjust the seasoning to taste.
Serve with mashed potatoes and the sauce in the casserole.
Any leftover sauce can be frozen and added to the next pigeon dish or similar.
A good butcher will sell pigeon for about £1.50 each.