Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.
I’ve decided to try cooking game with greater variance and frequency. My motivation stems from The River Cottage Meat Book and was recently reinforced by the surprising range of game available at a new local supermarket. To-date my game cooking experience has been rather limited, just venison and rabbit. The former possibly farmed, the latter certainly farmed (so the link to “game” is tenuous at best). If you’re unfamillar with game then the Hugh book is a great start, but game is just a small part of it’s coverage and I can recommend Clarissa Dickson Wright’s (one of the “Two Fat Ladies“) & Johnny Scott’s “The Game Cookbook” as an alternative starting point that is also a great read.
I fear that the supermarket-with-game situation will be short lived due to a lack of demand, will enough locals buy game? Anyway, Waitrose is not the be-all-and-end-all of game, far from it! While the High Street butcher showed little promise on the game front (admittedly I’ve only tried asking for rabbit, in which case all they had to offer was farmed rabbit from China!) I recently found out about a different butcher nearby that ticks all the right boxes, I picked up some tasty duck breast there on Thursday and went back today for a couple of wild rabbits. Wabbit stoo tomorrow!
So, on Tuesday I decided to give a bird, or two, a whirl. I trundled over the tracks to the supermarket intending to get a couple of partridges. Alas, there were none! Luckily there was Wood Pigeon, the other birds available were far too large for one each (pheasant, mallard, goose!). Don’t fear, Wood Pigeons are not the same thing as the greasy rats-of-the-sky very familiar in Sydney (and London). I think that city-pigeons might be Rock Dove’s (Columba livia) or maybe just some sort of mongrel, Wood Pigeons (Columba palumbus) are related though.
Let us get on with the recipe.
- 2 Wood Pigeons (~280g each, marked on packet as 250g)
- 6 rashers of Streaky Bacon (120g)
- 1 small Zucchini (90g after tidying & chopping)
- 1 medium Onion (200g after tidying & chopping)
- 12 White Mushrooms (410g after tidying & chopping)
- 1 tbsp Maple Syrup (10g)
- 150ml Dry Red Wine
- 2 cloves of Garlic
- 6 Juniper Berries
- 1 heaped tsp of dried Oregano
- 2 tsp fresh ground Black Pepper
- 2 tbsp Spiced Mead, or Port, or Sherry
Determining the right baking parameters for the birdies was a little difficult. The packaging recommended 40 minutes at 160 degrees, while Hugh’s Meat Book suggests up to 25 minutes at 230 degrees. I stuck to the latter, since the Meat Book is well on it’s way to becoming my preferred deity. If anything I think that critters of this size could have done better with 20 minutes rather than 25 (25 was the upper threshold for a “large” pigeon, but I don’t know what “large” is for a pigeon!). So, first step, preheat oven to 230 degrees.
Next heat the spiced mead, just bung it in a teacup and microwave it. Crush and halve the garlic cloves, crush the juniper berries, and throw both into the heated mead along with a teaspoon of pepper and a couple of grinds of salt.
Now prepare the vegetables. Trim mushroom stems, if necessary, and slice. Top and tail zucchini, halve lengthwise, and slice. Halve, top, and tail the onion and slice. (Photo right.)
Rub the birds with some olive oil, not dripping with oil, just glistening. Now place them breast-up in a roasting pan and get out the bacon. The bacon is to be wrapped over the breast of the bird, the idea is to provide a steady stream of fat to reduce moisture loss, this is known as barding. No special technique is required, the image on the left shows the barded birds. With this done spoon the mead mixture, which should have been sitting for at least 5 minutes, into the cavities of the bird sharing out the garlic and berries evenly. Whack it in the oven! Make a note of the time, they’ll be ready in 25 minutes.
Use a large heavy based pan to deal with the veggies. Add a tablespoon of light olive oil and get it nice and hot, the oil should shimmer and run like water but not be smoking. Toss in the veggies! Keep tossing them around and let them brown a little. After about 5 minutes of this push the temperature right down and add the wine, maple syrup, remaining pepper, and about 50ml of water (or stock if you have some handy). Put a lid on the pan and let it lightly sizzle for about 10 minutes, stirring on occasion. Turn off the heat and have a quick peek at your birds to make sure nothing untoward has happened.
If there’s some time remaining for the birds pour some wine and marinate the
Remove birds from the oven, turn it off and place a couple of plates in it to warm. Get a medium flame going under the vegetables again, and then continue self-marination for 5 minutes. Remove birds to a temporary holding dish (probably best to have warmed this in the oven too) and pour juices from the pan into the vegetable pan, add about 50ml of water to the pan scrape, swirl, and tip into vegetables. Now push the vegetables to high heat and boil away liquid until vegetable mix resembles that shown in the photo to the right, there should be very little liquid remaining. Grab the hot pates from the oven (careful!) and divide vegetable mixture between them. Place birds on top of vegetables, add a couple of grinds of pepper, serve! Simple!
This is a hard sort of meal to deal with on the Nutrition front, mostly thanks to the pigeon. The Waitrose nutritional information was for “when prepared as directed”, but this would involve weighing the beasts after baking them and didn’t specify whether the weight should include bones or not! I took a punt at it by calculating the raw consumed weight as the raw weight minus the leftover carcass parts after eating (approximating a total of 200g). I had little luck finding nutritional stats for raw wood pigeon so I used stats for “Pheasant, raw, meat and skin” from the USDA database.
So, clearly the information here must be regarded as little more than a rough approximation! Here’s goes:
We found the pigeons to be mild in flavour and maybe a little dry, but the wet vegetable mixture covered for any dryness in the meat. Next time I’d probably give them 5 minutes less time in the oven. That said, the sky-rats are certainly to be repeated!