Wood pigeons (ring doves) make the best eating. Rock doves (the ones flocking round Trafalgar Square) are equally edible yet somehow not as mouthwatering. Pigeon is a great ethical choice since most birds live wild. Health risks associated with antibiotics, pesticides etc are minimal and, with over 5 million breeding pairs, sustainability is not an issue. If you swallow a lead shot, don’t panic: lead is an accumulative toxin, so one pellet is unlikely to do any damage. Try not to crack your teeth on one, though.
Pigeon likes strong earthy flavours: garlic, sage, mushrooms, red wine, black olives, chestnuts, onion, mustard, and its own liver. Simon Hopkinson (Roast Chicken and Other Stories; Ebury Press) has a delicious-sounding suggestion of roast pigeon with braised lettuce, peas & bacon; there’s a rather amusing blog about this HERE
1. Brown the birds first, in butter and/or oil and seasoning. (Recent research suggested that ‘sealing in the juices’ doesn’t actually work, but The Taster doesn’t believe it for a minute.)
2. Stuff it with any of the ingredients listed above, to your own taste.
3. Layer prosciutto or bacon over the breasts
4. Roast in a hot oven (Gas 4 or 180C) for 10 to 15 minutes, depending on how pink you like your pigeon. Remove the ham for the last 7 minutes to obtain the all-important crispy skin.
Pigeons are hardly worth jointing. Instead, split them down the backbone, flatten them, and grill them topped with your preferred herbs, fruit and oil. You can see what colour the flesh is turning, so just grill until you like the look of it.
Simmered in orange juice
As it says on the tin – brown in butter and oil as for roasting; put in a small pan, cover with orange juice and simmer very gently. This can take up to 50 minutes, if you’re doing it right. This is a very old recipe; it cries out to be partnered with watercress.
Our wine buff, Richard J Smith of the Wine School of Cheshire says: With pigeon pie, a young but full-bodied Claret works a treat; many from France’s largest wine region won’t break the bank. For a New World alternative, try a Chilean Carignan. Look for ‘old vines’ on the label for a more fruit-forward, great quality drink.
* Pigeons were first devoured, and are still very popular, in Egypt.
* Roast pigeon is healthy food, containing slightly less fat and a little more protein than beef, plus lots of iron and B Vitamins.
* Young pigeons are called squabs.
The Taster hopes this quick guide has given you a few ideas. We often add stuff as we go along, so do look us up again. Happy eating!