The Perfect Pigeon
PUBLISHED: 14:53 18 May 2012 | UPDATED: 15:05 28 November 2012
The perfect pigeon
Bagging a bird is one thing; doing it justice on the plate is something else entirely. Mark gives us a masterclass on how to get a perfect roast pigeon, every time.
Those of you who flick through my pages looking for Crowman’s pigeon articles will know that I often take a break from the ‘shoot it, cook it’ format to bring you a masterclass. I would say it is because I have finally run out a tales of sporting brilliance with which to dazzle you, but sadly that happened about 15 years ago.
What I really mean is that I have grown very tired of telling you stories of my father, Andy Crow and other local legends and substituting my name for theirs. And if I am tired of the effort it takes to do all that deleting, just think of the poor dictionary-hugging sub-editor that has to turn my literary sneezes into slick prose.
Those of you who have come this far and are waiting for a ‘masterclass’, I wish to clarify that this is not the name I gave the article, but one that was given to me. In fact, I often watch Pigeons the Experts’ Way when I come home from an unsuccessful day’s shooting so that I can bathe in the irony.
Roasting the wood pigeon
Preparation is important; I don’t want to get too ‘Heston’ here, but all the little things I am about to tell you will give you the perfect roast pigeon.
Once you have shot your woodpigeon (and after the winter I have had this is easier said than done), leave it in the fridge or chiller for a couple of days. This will allow some of the muscle fibres to break down, making the bird more tender.
After a couple of days, pluck and dress the bird and then put it back into the fridge, this time with a little salt on the skin. Leaving this overnight will cause the skin to dry out, making it easier to get it to crisp up in the oven.
At this point many choose to marinate the meat. However, using a wet marinade will make the skin go soft again, which I wouldn’t recommend. I avoid using rubs and marinades in my cooking because I am looking to improve the ‘pigeony’ flavours rather than make it taste of piri-piri. I am not saying that the Nando’s style is bad for pigeon if you are at home dining, but the people I cook for probably won’t want it.
When you roast the pigeon you need to make sure your preheated oven is set to a very high temperature. You may need to bear in mind that my ovens are commercial and hold their temperature better than a domestic appliance. This means that you may not only need to preheat your oven, but it may need to be set a little higher to maintain the cooking temperature. You may not need to go to such lengths if you are reading this from your Chelsea maisonette while resting against a top-of-the-range Smeg oven, but if like me you have a rusty Rayburn in the home kitchen you may need to take these things into consideration.
You need to cook the pigeon until it feels done, which is the same feeling of firmness you get by putting your thumb and middle fingers together and touching the ball of your thumb. It should take about ten to 12 minutes at 200 degrees, but I must point out that cooking meat is not like cooking pastry; pastry is, to an extent, cooked for a certain time at a certain temperature, whereas meat is simply cooked until it feels right. As such, I can give you an indication of how long it will take, but I cannot be precise because there are more variables at play.
I cannot stress enough the importance of feeling your meat; it is the best way to get consistent cooking results. I wish I could give you the precise timings to ensure you always get perfection but sadly it doesn’t work like that. You should be able to get good results the first time, and if you keep handling it eventually you will know how the feel relates to the juicy finished product.
Once the pigeon is cooked you must remove it from the oven and let it relax. This involves simply leaving it in a plate-warming oven for ten minutes. If you don’t have one of these ovens, a similar effect can be achieved by wrapping the piping hot bird in tin foil.
If you fail to relax the bird it will be raw in the middle and the flesh on the outside will lose all its juice. The relaxing of the bird is important and directly affects its cooking; if you don’t let it relax then it won’t be properly cooked.
Serve your perfectly roasted pigeon with something sweet, such as pea purÉe, beetroot fondant or honey roasted parsnips.