February is a funny month for seasonal food – one season coming to an end; another just about to start. As the game season is almost over, now is the time to make the most of fresh game.
Pigeon is not so often on the menu, but it is very tasty and well worth a try. The best bird to eat is the wood pigeon, which has a strong gamey flavour. You should be able to find pigeon in most butchers and supermarkets though you could, of course, go and hunt for some yourself!
Menu Rapide – Warm Salad of Pigeon Breasts and Lardons
A tasty salad that takes barely any time to make. For the best flavour, use young pigeon, known as pigeonneau.
Ingredients: (serves four)
– Eight pigeon breasts (two per person)
– A packet of smoked lardons (or 400g of smoky bacon, diced)
– One large onion or five5 shallots, peeled and sliced
– Chopped parsley to garnish
– Enough mixed salad leaves for four plates (frizzy endive, lamb’s lettuce, rocket and raddichio make a nice mix)
– Seasoned flour (flour mixed with salt, pepper, paprika, a little five-spice and a few dried herbes de Provence)
– Olive oil
– Balsamic vinegar
If you have got whole pigeons, cut off the breasts and make a rich red wine stock from the rest of the birds – it will come in handy for the A la Carte recipe!
Cut the breasts into three and lightly coat in the seasoned flour. Wash and prepare your four dishes of salad.
In a good-sized frying pan, heat some olive oil. Pigeon does not need a lot of cooking and we need to seal it quickly, so make sure the oil is hot, and then do all the cooking on a high heat, without letting it rest.
First, put the onions or shallots in the oil with the lardons/bacon, and stir for a couple of minutes. Then add the pieces of pigeon breast and continue to cook, stirring all the time.
Pigeon should not be over-cooked or it will become tough. You should aim for medium rare.
After a few minutes, when you can see the pigeon taking colour from the cooking process, remove with a slotted spoon from the pan and drain on absorbent paper.
Divide the pigeon and lardon/bacon and onion mix between the four dishes of salad and arrange.
To make the dressing, add a little balsamic vinegar to the pan and scrape up the cooking juices – this will take just a few seconds. Then, remove from the heat and add a little more olive oil. Taste. If your seasoned flour was not very strong, you may need to season the dressing.
Spoon the dressing over each of the salads and if you like a lot of dressing, add some more oil and vinegar to each. Serve with fresh, crusty French bread and a red wine with some body.
A La Carte – Pigeon Casserole
This dish is cooked slowly for a long time (just over three hours), so it is not quite so important to use the youngest birds – but if you can get them it is even more delicious!
Ingredients: (serves four)
– Four pigeons – tie the legs loosely together to keep their shape during cooking.
– 100g butter
– 100g lardons
– One third of a bottle of red wine
– 400ml of rich stock (see previous recipe)
– Fresh parsley, thyme and bay leaf (dried will do)
– 100g button mushrooms, washed
– 24 baby onions, peeled
– Three pieces of celery, cut into 3cm slices
– Two carrots, peeled and thickly sliced
– 30g washed raisins
– 50g pine nuts
– Quince jelly (blackcurrant will do but quince has a slightly sharper flavour)
– Beurre manié (flour mixed with melted butter which is used to thicken the sauce if needed)
Melt half of the butter in a good-sized pan. When melted, add the bacon and cook. Then add the pigeon and brown.
In a separate pan, sauté the mushrooms, onions, celery and carrots in the rest of the butter. Add this mixture to the pigeons and lardons, along with the red wine, herbs, seasoning to taste and stock.
Bring to the boil, then add the raisins and pine nuts. Cover and simmer for three hours on a low heat. Remove the pan from the stove. Remove the pigeon and vegetable mix – arrange on a serving dish – leaving behind the gravy.
Bring the gravy to the boil, adding the quince jelly and if needed, thicken with the beurre manié.
Pour some of the gravy over the birds (I like to serve them cut in half) and garnish with watercress.
Serve the pigeon casserole with potatoes boiled in their skins, a green vegetable and the rest of the gravy.
•With thanks to Chris Lacey, a British chef in France
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