At this time of the year I love to get out for a shot with our friend Richard. Richard has a lovely old wood nearby which is a favourite roost for some very fat wood pigeons!
Pigeon breasts are a delicious meat and are an excellent introduction to game for those who have not tried it. The meat is dark and tasty but does not have that very strong ‘gamey’ taste that some people don’t like.
Here’s one of the recipes that I like to use. As well as being a great way to use the pigeon breast, it’s also an excellent way to serve some of the leeks which are plentiful in the garden right now. If you can get some wild mushrooms, they are delicious with pigeon too!
Use the small leeks, if you have any. Leave the big ones for Fish Pie!
This is for 8 pigeon breasts and that could feed 4 people as a main or 8 as a starter.
Preparing the Pigeon
To remove the breasts:
- Expose the skin on the breast by seperating the feathers.
- Using a sharp knife cut through the skin along the breast bone.
- Peal back the skin to reveal the breast muscles and then with the knife slice as close to the breast bone as you can to remove the breasts.
From each bird you should have 2 whole pieces of meat, each about 5 or 6 oz.
For the marinade
The breasts are delicious lightly fried as soon as they come off the bird but they can also be marinated to soften the flesh and improve the flavour.
- 4 garlic cloves, sliced
- ½tsp thyme leaves
- 6 crushed black peppercorns
- 4 tbsp Olive or Rapeseed oil, if you can get it.
Combine all of the marinade ingredients in a small bowl.
Using a sharp knife, score the pigeon breasts lightly and rub in the marinade – leave in the fridge overnight if possible.
For the roasted leeks
- 2 baby leeks for each person as a starter or 4 for a main course. Trim and clean them well
- 1 – 2 oz butter
For the sauce
- 2 tbsp brown sugar
- 200ml of a meaty red wine. A chianti works well
- 2 sprigs thyme
- 6 juniper berries, lightly crushed
To make the sauce:
Pop the sugar and a few drops of water into a small pot to caramelise over a high heat.
Once the sugar melts and has gone a dark golden brown, pour in the red wine and give it a stir.
Add the thyme and the juniper berries.
Cook until it is reduced by about two thirds – this will take about 12-15 minutes.
Season to taste, then strain the sauce and keep it warm while you cook the birds.
Pre-heat the oven to 220C/425F/Gas 7.
For the Leeks
- Place the leeks in an oven dish with a big knob of butter. Pop them in the hot oven and cook until tender – this should take about 10-15 minutes.
To cook the pigeon
- While the leeks are in the oven, heat a griddle pan until its very hot. Place the pigeon breasts on the hot griddle pan and cook for just 3 minutes on each side (or more if you prefer them well done but don’t over cook!)
- When you remove the breasts from the pan let them rst in a warm place for about five minutes.
Serve the pigeon with the leeks and a drizzle of the red wine gravy (along with the rest of the red wine, of course!)