March 4th, 2013
All pigeons and doves are related and all are edible. In theory pigeons eat fruit, seeds, insects and worms, though I’ve seen city pigeons eating leftover KFC and all manner of unpleasant things. However, even in London, you’ll find large numbers of Wood Pigeon, which seem to prefer their natural food, in back gardens and parks – I’ve never seen them hanging out with their common cousins in Trafalgar Square. To be honest I find it baffling that fat contented Wood Pigeons snooze happily in trees while their relatives fight each other for mouldy scraps.
Almost all pigeon are classified as pests/vermin, like rabbit (there are a few tropical species which are endangered, but they do not live in Europe or North America), so they can be hunted all year round without a licence. If you do decide to dispatch Wood Pigeon in your back garden, do make sure you do it humanely or you might have a wildlife organisation prosecuting you for cruelty. The pigeon above should know better than to sit outside my kitchen window… If you keep chicken, the pigeons that have come to stay are eating the same food as the chicken 😉
Pigeon are about the same size as partridge but taste slightly stronger – a little bit similar to pheasant. They can be cooked in much the same way as game birds and chicken. Cooking time is about twenty minutes to half an hour and no hanging is required.
Pigeon in red wine sauce (serves 2):
2 Wood Pigeon
4 slices of smoked, streaky bacon (chopped)
1 pint of home made stock (I used duck, but chicken would do)
1 large carrot (chopped)
1 stick of celery (chopped)
6 pieces of garlic (finely chopped)
1 dessertspoonful of tomato purée
1 dessertspoonful of plain flour
2 teaspoons of ground rosemary, sage and thyme (with sea salt and a few black peppercorns)
2 bay leaves
a large glass of red wine
a glass of sherry brandy
a splash of sherry vinegar
a dessertspoonful of goose fat
Insert 2 anchovies into each pigeon before browning them in goose fat (use a cast iron casserole) – those in the top photo, look well done, but their skin was quite dark to start with. They only need to be cooked for a few minutes per side in hot fat. When browned all over, flame with a glass of sherry brandy – brandy flames easily if you heat it first, but don’t boil it. I had 3 foot high flames, but they only lasted for a second or two (it is important to burn off the alcohol in the brandy – don’t just pour some brandy in). Remove the pigeons and deglaze the pan with a little red wine – keep this and add it to the dish when all the other liquid goes in. Using the same casserole, fry the shallots and bacon in olive oil until both have browned a little.
Add the remaining vegetables and allow them to take some colour before stirring in the flour and herbs. Pour in the wine, vinegar, stock and deglazing liquid, plus the bay leaves. Give it a good stir, squirt in the purée and allow to warm up before returning the pigeons to the pot.
Bring the casserole to a simmer, put the lid on and place in a preheated oven at 120ºC. Cook for about 2 hours, turning the birds over half way through and tasting occasionally. If necessary, add more wine, vinegar, etc. in small amounts (you can always add more, but you can’t take flavours out). I added a little bit more sherry vinegar just before serving.
Serve with mashed celeriac rolled into balls, floured and fried for a few minute in olive oil.
Drink – a robust Spanish red, such as Rioja.