Braised pigeons

I had a friend, now alas dead, who couldn’t sit down to eat without convulsing with mirth at the memory of what he liked to call “the bouncing pigeon of Blackhall”. And that was 15 years after the event. (I will admit that the pigeon might not have been perfectly casseroled. When he tried to stick his fork into it, it shot like a black tennis ball off his plate and bounced across the floor.) I have since learned how to do this dish properly.

Serves 4

5 sticks celery
5 carrots
125g unsmoked bacon
85g butter
2 tbsp vegetable oil
4 wood pigeons
1 bay leaf
1 star anise
60ml calvados (or brandy, armagnac)
150ml cider
Chicken stock
Salt and pepper
16-20 pickling onions, peeled
20-24 button mushrooms
½ bunch flat-leaf parsley, chopped

Cut one stick of celery and one carrot into quarters. Cut the bacon into sticks about 5mm wide.

Heat 55g of the butter and two tablespoons of oil in a casserole until foaming. Brown the pigeons all over and, once they’re nicely tanned, pour off the butter/oil. Add the bacon sticks and fry until their fat runs. Add the quartered celery and carrot, bay leaf, star anise and calvados. Turn up the heat for two or three minutes, to burn off the alcohol in the calvados, then add the cider and enough stock to cover. Season, pop on the lid, lower the heat and simmer gently for 45 minutes to an hour. The flesh should get to the point where it is falling off the bone.

While that’s going on, cut the remaining carrots and celery into more sticks. Heat the remaining butter plus a little vegetable oil in a wide-bottomed pan. Add the onions and brown lightly all over. Add the mushrooms and brown slightly. Add the celery and carrot sticks and stir, then remove from the heat.

When the pigeons are cooked, pour the cooking juices into the pan with the vegetables. Place the pan over a high heat to reduce the juices and cook the vegetables – 10-15 minutes, or when you find the whole kit and caboodle to your taste. Pour over the pigeons sprinkle with parsley and get it to the table.


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