Paloma en Escabeche

pigeon in escabeche

Escabeche is a method of food preservation, using vinegar (and sometimes citrus juice), invented by the Persians  many centuries ago. Both the Greeks and Romans used vinegar as a preservative, so escabeche might have reached Spain before the the Moorish conquest of Iberia but it certainly became popular during their reign. The Spanish added an extra taste dimension to escabeche when they discovered South America and brought pimentón (paprika) back to Europe.

Cooking and immersing food in a vinegar mixture with a pH value of 4 or lower stops food putrefaction, but it’s the time spent in the jar, post cooking, which really brings out the flavours of the ingredients. It’s common to find many foods preserved in escabeche, such as partridge, quail, mackerel, tuna, muscles, and vegetables like aubergine (berenjenas), throughout the Spanish speaking world and beyond. In Argentina they even preserve the vizcacha a raccoon sized rodent in escabeche sauce. Like many old techniques for food conservation, the cooking and pickling process imparts a deliciously distinctive flavour and has therefore survived the invention of refrigeration.

perdiz roja

Most if not all of these foods in escabeche (listed above) can be found canned in delicatessens and supermarkets across Spain (and specialty Spanish shops around the world). You may remember a post I made some time ago on the Perdiz Roca (red-legged partridge) I found at Casa Petit in Barcelona. Bought food in escabeche can be quite spectacular, but cooking at home takes it up a notch – all the way to eleven!


Paloma en Escabeche (pigeon in escabeche) recipe:

1 pigeon (per person)
1 medium onion (thinly sliced)
8 cloves garlic bruised and peeled
1 carrot sliced into batons
1 lemon (unwaxed and thinly sliced)
250ml extra virgin olive oil
125ml dry white wine
125ml red wine vinegar
a heaped teaspoon pimentón de la vera dulce
10 black peppercorns
a pinch of ground chilli
3 bay leaves
2 cloves
4 sprigs of thyme
a teaspoon of sea salt

N.B. Escabeche may contain other ingredients too, such as saffron, olives, whole chillies, oregano, etc. It is thought that the origin of South American ceviche, may have it’s roots in Spanish Conquistadors taking food preserved in escabeche to the New World, along with citrus fruits.

pigeon in oil

This recipe should provide enough liquid for any small game bird and probably enough for several quail. This is quite a simple process, there’s no brining required, just cooking, cooling and a little patience while the escabeche marinates over a few days.


Pour enough of the olive oil into a cast iron casserole to brown the pigeon all over and caramelise the sugars in the skin.


When done, remove the pigeon to a plate.


Pour in the remaining oil and fry the onion and carrot for a few minutes before stirring in the garlic, thyme, peppercorns, chilli, cloves, salt and bay leaves.


Add the white wine and red wine vinegar then bring the casserole up to a simmer.

pigeon simmering

Return the pigeon to the pan

pigeon with lemon

and position the lemon slices around the edge. Put the lid on and place the dish into a pre heated oven at 120ºC for an hour. Turn the pigeon over half way through.

paloma en escabeche

Allow the pigeon and escabeche to cool down before sealing in a glass jar. At this point the sauce will taste nice, but will improve considerably over several days. Do not put all the lemon slices in the jar, as the citrus flavour will become overpowering (I recommend using no more than 2 slices). Make sure the bird is fully covered by the sauce! Keep the escabeche refrigerated for a few days before serving. Serve, either chilled with salad or reheated, this makes for a perfect lunch or starter at supper time. In theory escabeche should last for some time, but do follow basic food preserving recommendations if you intend to keep the escabeche longer than a week. Once the pigeon is eaten, any leftover sauce can be used as a dip for good quality bread or for adding a little kick when cooking fish, pork or other meat.

Other Pigeon posts

About Mad Dog
This entry was posted in Drink, Food, Game, Meat, Recipes, Spanish and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

26 Responses to Paloma en Escabeche

  1. Eha says:

    Whatever its origins this method is widely used in Northern European countries also, usually using fish for first course or for the smorgasbord table. ‘Unfortunately’ the choice of ingredients for the pickling broth is nowhere as exciting 🙂 ! Thus, tho’ I may not be able to access pigeon, quail or mackerel or such are certainly available for me to try doing it ‘your way’ – thanks!

    • Mad Dog says:

      Thanks Eha – you can use chicken, pork or rabbit too – they are all commonly used this way in Spain and aubergine (eggplant) is amazing! I’m also a big fan of mussels in escabeche, they are a match made in heaven.

      • Eha says:

        Good! Can see extra productive times in the kitchen: the mussels I find especially interesting . . . cannot quite imagine . . . and have just realized I do have an eggplant in the crisper 🙂 !

  2. Am seriously impressed by this! Several of our local bars serve fish in escabeche as a tapas (usually mackerel I think) but I suspect it’s more a cooking method giving the flavours rather than for storing. Never, ever thought of giving it a go myself…Am feeling inspired. Hope all is well with you in London, think you’ve had worse weather than us. Stay safe with your bike!

    • Mad Dog says:

      Thanks Tanya – it should be perfect with mackerel, but the process is slightly different. Either cook the mackerel for 2 minutes per side and cover with the hot escabeche or place raw in the cooking escabeche for 3 minutes, then cover and allow to cool. Most recipes suggest serving when cool, but there is a huge change in flavour after a couple of days, so it would be worth trying. They definitely would have stored mackerel in escabeche hundreds of years ago, so I’m sure it tastes good.
      There has been a lot of snow – all the side streets are still blocked, but it’s due to rain tonight, which should clear it all up!

      • Am definitely going to try this! Our snow melted, then we had another snowfall this afternoon…

        • Mad Dog says:

          I know – I cycled down to the St. John for bread this morning and the main roads were clear, then this afternoon it started snowing again! On the bright side, they say the temperature is going up and it will be raining by tomorrow night.

  3. Ron says:

    A great informative post. I’ve pickled herring and pigs feet and eggs, but never a pigeon. Looking at that fine cooked bird setting in your Le Creuset pan make me think it would never make it to the jar.

    • Mad Dog says:

      Thanks Ron – I know what you mean, but if you cook a few at the same time you can eat one and preserve the others for a later date. It is definitely worth the wait!

  4. Very interesting history. I like the method here. The flavor sounds so good and I like how it only requires a little forethought. I bet that bird tastes incredible. You’re giving me great ideas. I think I’ll try this with vegetables!

    • Mad Dog says:

      Thanks Amanda – this is quite spectacular with eggplant, which is very popular in Spain and Argentina. I think any absorbent vegetable which doesn’t fall apart would work – perhaps mixed baby vegetables would be good.

  5. This is not available in the states, at least where I live. It does sound perfect for a salad!

    • Mad Dog says:

      It is fantastic and simple to prepare. You’d get things in escabeche from a shop selling South American produce, particularly Argentinian, but then it’s just as easy (almost) to make your own.

  6. Conor Bofin says:

    Really interesting post MD. A great read and something I will look out for on both of my trips to Spain this year. We are hitting up Santander in April and again in September. The early trip to scope out some restaurants for our 24 strong cycling group, going in September. All good fun.

    • Mad Dog says:

      Thanks Conor – you will find all sorts of delicious things canned with escabeche in the supermarkets and tin shops. Fish costs about €1 and partridge is between €8 and €16. All the restaurants do a 3 course lunch menú del dia including beer and wine from about €11. Michelin starred restaurants cost more, but they still do a reasonable price for a set lunch and normally have a decent bottle of wine for €10. Look for busy places where the locals eat. Avoid places with tourists or advertising tapas and pizza.

  7. Eva Taylor says:

    What an interesting recipe. Is the end result very acidic (like that of a ceviche)? Does the meat look boiled or does it have some colour? I have to admit, pigeon is a garbage bird here in Toronto and frankly, I probably would have a difficult time trying to eat it (saw a baby pigeon once, it was quite possibly the ugliest baby animal I have ever seen in my life! I had intended on trying pigeon in Morocco and Europe a few years ago, but the opportunity never arose. Reading down the comments, perhaps I would enjoy the Mackerel more than pigeon!

    • Mad Dog says:

      It is acidic relative to the wine vinegar, but it’s a gentle acidic flavour, alongside the citrus and pimentón. Wood Pigeon is very similar to Partridge in taste and they are a completely wild bird, not the same as feral (town) pigeon – they are gourmandes by nature. If you are not sure about pigeon, a poussin would be an idea substitute. Escabeche tastes vinegar acidic, whereas ceviche tastes citrus acidic.
      …and mackerel in escabeche is absolutely delicious!

  8. Pingback: Rabbit Vindaloo | Mad Dog TV Dinners

  9. Pingback: Restaurant Diagonal | Mad Dog TV Dinners

  10. Pingback: Pickled Chillies | Mad Dog TV Dinners

  11. Pingback: Faisán en Adobo | Mad Dog TV Dinners

  12. Pingback: Mejillones en Escabeche | Mad Dog TV Dinners

  13. Pingback: Pollo en Adobo | Mad Dog TV Dinners

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.