Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Curious about Pigeon

The English Market may well be my favourite place in Cork city. An excellent, high-quality range of produce, freshly baked breads, sweet and savoury treats, artisan chocolates, cured meats, wonderful cheeses, a famous fishmonger, and a fine array of butchers touting various cuts of various animals. One in particular specialises in less common meats, like rabbit, buffalo, kangaroo, venison and... you guessed it: pigeon.

Recently, I became especially intrigued by the petite deep maroon, almost blood-red, coloured breasts of pigeon sitting neatly between buffalo burgers and a whole rabbit. We purchased two breasts for sampling and on the walk home I began to imagine the dish.

To accompany, I cooked a mushroom, leek and red wine pearl barley risotto, seasoned with garlic and rosemary, with the duck stock I'd made the previous day - a perfect accompaniment, I thought, to the rich, gamey flavours I was anticipating the pigeon to have. 

For the pigeon: I patted both breasts dry with kitchen paper and seasoned both sides generously with freshly ground sea salt and pepper. Meanwhile, over medium-high heat, I gently heated a good swirl of grapeseed oil with the fresh leaves of two thyme sprigs. As the thyme became fragrant and began to sizzle, I placed the pigeon breasts firmly down in the pan, capturing some of the thyme hostage beneath.

After about 2 minutes, with the pigeon seared and nicely beginning to colour on one side, I flipped both breasts over, moving them around the pan to capture more thyme. After another 2 minutes, I flipped over again to finish, about 30 seconds more. Pigeon is best cooked rare to medium-rare, and as they are very small pieces of meat, it doesn't take long. Removed from the heat, I allowed them to rest for 5 minutes and served it with the pearl barley risotto (pouring the resting juices over).

Seared Pigeon Breast with Mushroom and Leek Pearl Barley Risotto
Tucking in, and happy to reveal a luscious deep pink colour within the pigeon

Being the first time tasting pigeon, I was pleasantly surprised by how delicate and light the meat tasted. It was almost sweet and not unlike venison. Something I would definitely like to try again. And as a meal, the warm, earthy background of the mushrooms, rosemary and duck stock complemented the 'sweetness' of the pigeon well, with the leeks amplifying that note.

Indeed, a lovely meal which I will try again soon, however next time, two breasts per person will be in order - not only for a more substantial serving, but to longer enjoy and celebrate the unassuming delicacy of pigeon.

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