One of the benefit of having ‘country folk’ amongst your friend network is that occasionally, they will greet you with… “Oh, Paul just butchered up a load of woodpigeons, do you want some?”
“Hell, yes!” is the only appropriate response.
Cut to 6 months later and the missus is rooting through the freezer and she asks if I want to use those ‘bits of pigeon’.
Cut to later in the day when the opaque freezer bag was opened to find eight… you heard me… eight beautiful pigeon breasts.
Now this sort of free bounty doesn’t come by every day so there is every reason to try and make something a little bit special.
That’s not a problem for me, not because of my innate brilliance in the kitchen, but because we have a pretty major library of recipe books and it gave me the chance to read for an hour or so whilst pretending to be working on dinner.
That said, I basically came across a load of different ideas and decided to throw a few different things from different books together… using a liberal interpretation of the recipes to make up for the realities of what was in the larder.
So, the full plate was pigeon, potatoes, kale, black pudding, beetroot puree and a citrus sauce.
I’ll get rid of the easy stuff first…
Black pudding, cut into rings and fried until crispy.
Kale, shredded and steamed.
Beetroot puree was slightly more complicated but basically all done with a hand blender. It was a vacuum pack of pre-cooked beetroot, a similar volume of creme fraiche (remember… Creme Fraiche d’Isigny!!!), a couple of cloves of garlic and a teaspoon of sugar. Just whizz it all up until it looks like you’ve dropped a hamster in there and you’re good to go.
The pigeon itself is actually very easy to cook… you’ve just got to be brave. It needs to be rare. If you over cook it it turns into a hockey puck and is just plain nasty!
Get a hot frying pan with a little oil in it and fry the breasts off… 2 minutes per side… that’s all. Then take them out and put them on a warm plate, cover them and leave them to rest for five minutes before serving. They were ‘bob on’ as the saying goes!
The two biggest things to deal with regarding this dish was the sauce and potatoes.
Firstly, the potatoes… I decided to be all fancy pants about them and do those ‘fondant potatoes’ that everyone on Masterchef seem to be obsessed with. Up until now, I’d always thought they looked like far too much of a faff… but hey, all that beautiful pigeon… I had to step up and be a ‘master’ chef, goddamit!
You’ll see from the picture that I didn’t use a shaped cutter to make a perfect shape… I was already a little freaked by how much potato was going to waste… but I basically cut them so that they were all the same basic size and depth… about 2″ deep.
Then I put a shedload of butter in a small skillet and got it to where it was just starting to foam. (By shedload, I mean about one third of a standard pack of butter.)
Put the potatoes in and fry them on one side until they start to colour. Be careful not to burn the butter, but be aware that you will be browning the butter as well as the potatoes. If anything starts to go black take it off the heat and lower it.
I had, to one side, about a litre and a half of stock… some for this and some for the sauce.
When both sides of the potato have started to take on a nice dark golden colour it’s time to add the stock.
If you are a neat freak or a bit OCD about splashes, don’t cook this at all. Basically, I was adding hot liquid to hot fat… it’s a big, noisy, messy, splattery process that you think… for the first ten seconds… is going horribly wrong. But then the pan settles down, the liquids emulsify to a certain extent and essentially you are now in the process of simmering the spuds until they are cooked through in the middle. (add enough stock so that the potatoes are two thirds immersed, and turn them occasionally during the simmer.) I’m fairly certain you’re all capable of knowing when a potatoe is cooked… although a shocking number of the Masterchef contestants seem to screw up these fondant spuds! Also be aware that the stock will reduce, but don’t top up unless you get back to neat butter again.
By far the most complex thing on the dish was the sauce, which is often the way.
There was no actual science to how the sauce was made… it was just about getting the balance of the various flavours right.
Start with about a pint of stock in a sauce pan at a low simmer.
Then add these ingredients, in this order with these (very) approximate quantities:
Red wine – 1 large glass
Tomato Puree – 1Tbs
Redcurrant Jelly (or similar) – 2Tbs
Worcestershire Sauce – 1Tbs
Tabasco Sauce – 2tsps
Lemon – juice from 1
Orange peel.zest – peel off one big piece with a potato peeler – save the orange for something else
Garlic – 2 cloves – crushed
Salt and Pepper
Now simmer for 20 mins and TASTE!!!
Using your superior culinary brain, decide if anything need amping up a bit and add what’s required from the above list.
My sauce had a little chilli kick with a strong citrus base and a little bit of sweet stickiness at the end… which is a pretentious way of saying that it was yummy.
And finally, keeping in line with recent photographic mishaps… you can plate it up. I would, however, recommend that you don’t plate it up like I did.
Essentially my plate looked like roadkill! It looked like something from The Waking Dead! It looked like ‘show and tell’ from the kid whose dad works at the local abattoir!
You get the picture… and if you don’t, here’s some more to put you off eating entirely.
But never judge a plate of food by how Mugsie and I dress a plate or take a pic – this was absolutely gorgeous. And the fondant potatoes were actually worth it… really rich and smooth and buttery… a real eye-opener!