We had pigeon at our wedding. Not your feral, lean and verminous pigeon, nor even the softly cooing denizen of woods and meadow, but a plump and succulent squab pigeon, nurtured with as much luxuriance as any hand massaged and beer soaked Wagyu bullock. With paler meat and a thick layer of protective fatty skin, a squab is a tender morsel. We know little about the virtues of the dovecote in this country but, in France, it is well known that a pigeonneau aux petits pois – even when the peas are tinned, or sometimes because – is one of the joys of spring.
At our wedding, we enjoyed the pigeon boned and stuffed with risotto. It was a triumph, although I may not have been paying it my best attention.
Having a prestigious Champagne house hosting a lunch in our private room last week, I decided to repeat the marital pigeon. Having to be absent the day before, I commissioned the boning and stuffing remotely and decided to cook and taste one later that night.
We had decided to place a piece of foie gras in the middle of the rice, to add extra richness and flavour.
I tucked in with relish but my appetite soon palled. The rice and foie gras mix was horribly rich and completely overwhelmed the delicate flavour of the pigeon. It was a disaster: I pushed the meat around the plate and then pushed the plate away.
I ordered more pigeons and did a different dish altogether for the Champagne mob.
But, I was now stuck with 16 pigeons stuffed with inedible rice and I was terrified my head chef would discover my profligacy.
With a heavy heart, I cut open the pigeons and jettisoned the expensive rice. I washed the pigeons and divided the remaining pigeon into four bits, the breasts and legs. The special that night, a “pigeon salmis with artichokes, pine kernels and raisins” was a sell out.
Retrieved pigeon salmis
Pigeon with artichokes, pine kernels and raisins
Although squab pigeon is preferable, wood pigeons could be used. I would chuck the legs in the stock and be very careful to keep the breasts very pink.
1 large shallot
1 stick of celery
1 tbs sugar
50ml red wine vinegar
1 glass dry white wine
500ml chicken stock
Thyme, bay leaf, cloves
1 tbs raisins
8 baby artichokes
1 tbs pine kernels
● Remove the legs from the pigeons and then take off the breasts, cutting down either side of the breastbone and separating the wing at its joint with the backbone.
Reserve the four meat joints from each pigeon. Chop up the remaining carcases with a cleaver.
● Heat half the butter in a heavy sauté pan and add the pigeon carcases.
Colour them on a lively heat before adding the peeled and sliced shallot, celery and carrot. Colour these in turn before sprinkling the sugar over all. Stir well and make sure there is a good caramelisation on the bottom of the pan and then add the vinegar.
Boil this vigorously until it is almost completely evaporated and then pour in the wine and the stock.
Add the herbs and half a dozen cloves and bring to the boil. Skim off any impurities and then simmer very gently for an hour before straining and cooling.
● Pour boiling water over the raisins in a bowl and leave to soak for 30 minutes. Remove the outer leaves from the artichokes, peel the stalks and cut off the tips of the leaves and rub them well with lemon. Cut into quarters lengthwise and soak in the squeezed juice of the lemon.
Put in a saucepan with the lemon juice, a tablespoon of olive oil and enough water to cover. Simmer gently for fifteen minutes and then allow to cool. Place the pine kernels under a hot grill and toast, taking care not to burn them.
● Heat the remaining butter in the sauté pan and add the well seasoned pigeon pieces, skin side down. Let them colour well for two minutes, turn them and colour them for another minute.
Add the drained artichoke pieces for a mere minute and then tip the whole contents out onto a tray. The pigeon breasts should be still quite pink.
● Place the sauté pan back on the heat and add the pigeon stock. Bring to a good boil and reduce by half to produce a good syrupy sauce. Add the pigeon and artichoke pieces, together with the drained raisins and the pine kernels. Heat all together and check the seasoning of the sauce and serve.