I’m not sure how we drifted to the topic, but my doctor mentioned that his dad is a hobby-hunter and an excellent cook, being an Italian, this follows. My envy at his access to game lead to my being given thirteen frozen wild pigeons. I envisaged receiving a clingwrapped package of miniature versions of the plucked chickens I buy at the supermarket. My donor had not been as generous, however, and I got the birds as they died, all appendages intact and full-feathered. My staff were totally unfazed by this and were quite excited at giving me a lesson at the squeamish business of getting the pigeons naked without being daunted by the arduous business of plucking and cleaning, although there was some debate about the best plucking method.
I made a briny bath of sea salt, juniper berries and bay leaves and left the clean little birds to soak for a few hours, as instructed by Our Alice. I had decided to invite my friend Brian, a photographer who is currently visiting us from Cape Town, to join me for a tasting menu of three pigeon dishes made in three different ways, served simply with a crust French loaf to mop up the juices.
Firstly, the most boring take: mainly because I had a glut of tomatoes and had spent Monday making up a big batch of tomato sauce for bottling; I made a cacciatore style casserole. Niki Segent’s tome ‘ The Flavour Thesaurus’ is rather scathing on this dish, saying “ Tomato and chicken are the controlling partnership in chicken tikka masala and in chicken cacciatore, or hunter’s stew – which is not, sadly, the invention of pockmarked Sicilian peasants , returning home with a brace of feral chickens slung over their waistcoats, but an English recipe from the 1950s , taught to nice girls by their mothers in the hope they’d bag the sort of chap who’d be neither too unadventurous not too suspiciously cosmopolitan to a slightly herbed slop of chicken in tomato sauce.” Not too promising a take on the dish, but I fried them lightly with diced bacon and packed them snugly under a blanket of my sauce. Slow cooked in my little casserole dish, in a bain marie, they were quite good and nicely robust for winter fare.
Next was the recipe of my own doing and the one I was most excited about. I stuffed Turkish apricots with ground ginger biscuits soaked in port wine and sandwiched them inside the birds’ cavities. I gave the skins a rub of masala, before wrapping them in bacon and sticking them in a 180C oven to roast to a crispy finish. I really like the way they turned out and the camera seemed to like them too.
My final take was a traditional poultry treatment; I did a lemon & herb seasoning, browned the meat quickly over hot heat and made phyllo blankets to seal in the seasoning. A successful dish and most likely the one that would go down best with folk with less exotic and adventurous eating habits. This one would also be great served at room temperature at a picnic lunch.
All in all, we had a lovely meal and a good evening of reminiscence and giggles, thanks Dr V, and thanks too to your dad. Our final verdict is that ‘wetter is better’ and they are most successful cooked casserole style over a long period in a liquid of some sort.
Now for an announcement: I am leaving on Friday for Cape Town, where I will take a detox programme lasting 28 days at a beach rehab facility. I doubt I will have access to the internet whilst there, so don’t be alarmed if I don’t visit blogs or reply to comments.
Bon voyage and take care.