Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Pigeon Prosciutto

I want my game to taste of game, I like it hung and full of strong gamey flavour, it's one of the highlights of Autumn for me. These little pigeon breasts do not disappoint in that respect and are full of flavour. The Feathers Inn had too many to deal with so sent some my way, I think about 20, and I wanted to do something a bit different with them.

I've read about duck ham, although not yet tried it out, so did a bit of reading around the subject. I couldn't find anything about any cured pigeon but thought I'd give it a go anyway. I liked the idea of some cured gamey meat with pickled pears and walnuts, it was ticking a lot of autumnal boxes in my head...

Pigeons are pretty easy to pluck, the feathers come out pretty easily and don't generally tear the skin, it becomes harder work the bigger the bird and how presentable you want them to look at the end. I quite enjoy it, it can be quite messy so recently I've been wrapping up warm and setting up outside with a table and a bin bag, utilising the wind to clear up all the stray feathers, rather than intensive hoovering.

If you're giving this a go starting with a feathered friend, gently pull out all the feathers covering the breast, using your thumb and forefinger. Remove all the feathers from the neck, on the shoulders, down under the wings, over the breast and down to its bum... If you were going to roast it whole you would need to continue to pluck the whole bird, remove the head, wings and legs and then gut it, but that's another story and actually quite easy once you've done it a few times.

Once all the breast feathers are removed take a very sharp knife and make an incision down the centre of the skin along the breast bone, then pull the skin back from the meat to reveal the whole pigeon breast. Then pick a side and keep your knife as close to the bone all the way along from neck to bottom, gently running the length of the bird to remove the breast in one piece with as much meat as possible, aiming to leave little or none behind on the carcass. Repeat on the other side. Then there you have it, a butchered pigeon, you will improve the more you do it, I found doing 20 odd quite satisfying and was pretty proud of my efforts by the end.

I used a cure of 3 parts fine salt and 1 part sugar as I wanted a slight sweetness to it. I added some black pepper, torn up bay leaves, some rosemary and some crushed juniper berries. Sprinkle half of the mix over the bottom of a flat container that will fit all your pigeon breasts, then cover everything with the other half of the cure.

I wasn't sure how long to leave the pigeon to achieve what I wanted, but I put them in one afternoon and checked them the next morning and they were done. I had imagined 2 or 3 days but it was much quicker. The cure had turned to liquid, in turn drawing the liquid out of the meat, the meat had become harder and more solid over night. Remove the pigeon and rinse under cold water, then dry them off with some kitchen roll. I left them out to dry in the air for a few hours, but they are ready to eat straight away. They are rich and gamey, delicious, with a salty hit. I was really pleased with them.

After eating a whole one straight off and patting myself on the back a bit I wondered what to do with them. Curing something always feels a bit like magic to me, you've created something quite complex by doing something quite simple, I always feel a great sense of achievement! I put these guys into a salad that was delicious with bitter radicchio, sweet pickled pears, toasted walnuts and the salty rich irony pigeon, it worked really well.