Pigeon in general is something which many people are skeptical of eating. This is frequently because they associate pigeons with those birds that strut around city streets in flocks, gorging themselves on anything and everything unsavory which is within reach of their beaks. It is important to know that woodpigeon is an entirely different prospect. These birds are shot in rural areas and have spent their lives feasting on natural foodstuffs, not scrounging from urban discards.
Woodpigeons are a delicious type of wild game bird, low in fat but rich in flavor, and can be cooked up in a number of different ways. Woodpigeons are probably most often roasted whole and served in this way on the plate. The idea behind this recipe is to incorporate them in a delicious soup, accompanied - or their taste embellished - by other natural woodland or forest products that are mushrooms, nuts and berries.
You will need two woodpigeons for this recipe. If the birds are frozen, you will need to defrost them fully before they can be cooked and used for stock/soup. The easiest and safest way to do this is to remove all the packaging and sit them in a deep dish. Put the dish on the bottom shelf of your fridge and leave them overnight.
How to Cook the Woodpigeons
The woodpigeons are firstly going to be cooked by roasting. They will then be stripped of their meat and the carcasses will be used in the preparation of a game stock for making the soup.
Take the woodpigeons from the fridge and ensure they are fully defrosted. Wash them carefully in cold water, remembering they are very delicate and can easily be damaged. Pat dry with a wad of kitchen paper. Put your oven on to preheat to 450F/220C/Gas Mark 8.
Pour the vegetable oil in to an ovenproof frying pan (no plastic handles or attachments) and bring it up to a fairly high heat. Season the woodpigeons well with salt and pepper and brown them in the oil. Kitchen tongs should be used to turn and reposition them regularly until they are evenly browned. This should only take two or three minutes.
Put the frying pan in to the hot oven. The time taken to cook the pigeons will vary depending upon the size of the birds and your oven but should be between fifteen and twenty minutes.
After fifteen minutes, use an oven glove to lift the pan from the oven (it's all too easy to automatically go to lift a frying pan with an unprotected hand!) and sit it on a wooden board or even the stove top. Press the meat of the pigeon and it should be fairly firm. If in doubt, pierce with a skewer at the thickest part and ensure no blood trickles free. If necessary put it back in the oven and check again every two or three minutes, as it is vital the birds don't become overcooked.
When the pigeons are done, cover the frying pan with tinfoil and set aside to rest. After ten minutes, they would be ready to eat as is but leave them until they are cool enough to handle. Half an hour should be plenty of time.
Picking the meat from the pigeons is not difficult or time consuming, provided they are properly cooked. Start by bending the legs and wings backwards - against their natural direction of movement - and snap them off. If you are lucky, removing the legs in this way will also serve to strip the skin right off the breasts. Set the legs and wings aside for the stock. If not, peel away the skin by hand.
Pick the meat from the main body of the pigeons and set aside in a separate (covered) dish. It is a good idea to also feel at this stage for any stray leadshot which may remain in the meat and could later cause a broken tooth. If you are making the soup the same day, do not refrigerate, as the meat will have to be used at room temperature. If you are preparing the stock only the same day and the soup the following day, the meat should be refrigerated overnight along with but separate from the stock and removed from the fridge an hour before it will subsequently be needed.
How to Make Wild Game Stock
- Bones from 2 woodpigeons
- 1 small white onion, peeled and quartered
- 1 stick of celery, roughly chopped
- 1 small carrot, roughly chopped
- 2 bay leaves
- ½ tsp dried thyme
- 1 tsp juniper berries
- 1 tsp whole black peppercorns
- 2 pints fresh chicken stock
- 2 pints cold water
Put the main carcasses, legs and wings of the pigeons in to your stock pot. Add all the remaining solid ingredients before pouring in the chicken stock and cold water.
Bring the liquid in the stock pot to a simmer and stir well. Maintain a gentle to medium simmer for an hour and a half to two hours, until you can see the liquid in the pot has been reduced approximately by half. Turn off the heat, put the lid on the pot at this stage and leave for a couple of hours to cool considerably.
Use a large slotted spoon to remove the bulk of the solids from the cooled stock and discard. There's no need to be too fastidious, as the remaining stock is going to be strained. Suspend a fine sieve over a large bowl and line with two or three sheets of kitchen paper.
Ladle the stock in to the sieve, allowing it to drain through in to the bowl below. As you progress, the stock will take longer to strain due to the build up of impurities in the kitchen paper. For this reason, you may wish to change the paper, once or even twice. Lift the sieve away and the stock is ready for making the soup.
Ingredients (Serves 4)
- Strained woodpigeon game stock
- 6 button mushrooms, stalks trimmed and quartered
- 3 chestnut mushrooms, stalks trimmed and quartered
- 1 tbsp dried porcini mushrooms
- 1 tbsp lightly crushed walnuts
- 1 tbsp freshly chopped flat leaf parsley
- Meat from 2 woodpigeons
- Salt and pepper as may be required
- Whole parsley leaves if desired to garnish
Put the stock in to a clean soup or stock pot to reach a simmer. Add the mushrooms and walnuts and simmer for fifteen minutes.
Stir in the parsley and turn off the heat before re-introducing the shredded/torn pigeon breast. Leave for five minutes for the pigeon to warm through in the residual heat.
Taste the soup, adjust the seasoning if required and serve immediately, garnishing with the extra parsley if desired.