I’m pot-roasting my pigeon to make sure that it will be as tender and tasty as possible. With the lid on and the liquid around – and an apple inside for good measure – these birdies really shouldn’t dry out. Younger pigeons will give the most tender meat. You’ll spot them as being the ones with pliable feet and beak, and breasts which have something of the Baywatch about them.
The meat on a pigeon, whilst not being exactly plentiful, is wonderfully gamey and almost liver-like. Cooking them whole allows the flavours of the rest of the pigeon to play their part even though most of the meat is in the breasts.
If roasting the pigeons seems a bit of a faff – although it honestly isn’t – take heart in the fact that this beetroot puree is a breeze as it can be done ahead of time. With a peppery rocket salad you’ll achieve a combination of flavours that works very, very well.
Pot-Roasted Pigeon with Beetroot Puree and Hazelnut Rocket Salad
For the pot-roasted pigeon:
- 2 pigeons
- 1 small cox apple, or any other which is similarly tart
- 30g butter
- olive oil
- 5 shallots – skinned and halved
- 70g diced pancetta
- 6 rashers streaky bacon
- 5 sprigs thyme
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 cloves garlic – unskinned and flattened with the back of a spoon
- 2 tbsps calvados
- 3 tbsps red wine
- small handful flat leaf parsley
Pre-heat the oven at 180C.
1. Peel, core and quarter the apple. Stuff two quarters inside each pigeon with some seasoning and a sprig of thyme. Season the outside of the birds too. Nibble the rest of the apple.
2. Melt the butter and 1 tbsp olive oil in a roasting tin or shallow casserole on quite a high heat. Brown the pigeons all over and set aside.
3. Add the bacon rashers to the pan until they start to brown. Then remove and lay over the breasts of the pigeons.
4. Cook the pancetta, shallots, garlic, thyme and bay in the butter until the pancetta crisps and the shallots soften. Then add the calvados and let it bubble its booze off for a minute or so. Or you could flame it with a match held just over the surface of the liquid. Add the red wine and let that bubble too.
5. Return the pigeons to the pan, cover and roast in the oven for 30 minutes. You’ll need more time if the pigeons are older. During this roasting time prepare the hazelnut rocket salad (below).
6. Take the pigeons out, get rid of the bacon as it has done its job now, and put them into a serving dish to keep warm. Now is the time to start to reheat the beetroot puree if you have prepared that ahead of time.
7. Remove the garlic, bay and thyme; and then bubble the liquid to reduce it a little. Pour the sauce, pancetta and shallots over the pigeons. Scatter over a small handful of chopped parsley and serve.
For the beetroot puree – this can be done up to Step 4 ahead of time:
- 600g good size beetroot – that’s probably about four good-size ones
- 5 cloves garlic
- bunch of thyme
- 1 garlic clove, crushed
- 5tsp red wine vinegar
- 1 tbsp thyme leaves
- 30g unsalted butter
- 1 tbsp creme fraiche
1. Set the oven to 180C.
2. Trim the tops of the beetroot, leaving about an inch of stalks. Loosely wrap each beetroot in a piece of tin foil, each with a sprig of thyme, a garlic clove and a small slug of olive oil.
3. Roast these parcels for an hour and a half; by which time they should be tender to a knife.
4. Allow to cool. Then cut off the top and bottom and rub off the skins. These should come away very easily. Chop the beetroot flesh and blend with the garlic, vinegar, thyme, butter and seasoning.
5. When you are nearly ready to serve, reheat the puree and finish with a swirl of creme fraiche.
For the hazelnut rocket salad:
- 15g whole hazelnuts
- 2 big handfuls rocket leaves
- a light vinaigrette of olive oil and lemon, and seasoning
1. Toast the hazelnuts in a dry frying pan. Once cool, slip off their skins and chop into quarters roughly.
2. Dress the rocket with the vinaigrette and then mix in the chopped hazelnuts.
Angela Clutton is writing a book about all kinds of ways of living and doing things that have been passed down through generations. For more information, visit her website.