Kate Gatacre whips up a quick and easy pigeon and beetroot salad — the perfect lunch for a summer’s day
I’m told the French game dealers buy pigeon from many of the UK’s pigeon guides at £2.50 a bird – the same price that Allen’s in Mayfair charges. Goodness knows how much they retail at on the Continent.
In summer I wouldn’t hang pigeon at all. During the colder months, or if you have a good game larder/chiller, you can hang them for four days. Once you’ve plucked or breasted the bird, keep it in the fridge and use it within two days.
You can tell if it is a young bird as it will have a slightly more flexible beak and soft claws, in which case it is worth plucking entirely and roasting whole, but I know most people simply breast out the bird. It’s always worth plucking a few whole, using the breasts in a recipe such as the one below, and then making stock from the rest of the carcase.
As in the pigeon recipe below, beetroot is a great flavour and colour to add to pigeon. At this time of year, some small, young turnips would make an excellent peppery addition to a pigeon dish – prepare them by peeling, cutting into quarters, and cooking in a cast-iron pan with a bit of butter, so that they caramelise slightly.
A great summer side dish, which is particularly good with pigeon, is peas and lettuce. Finely chop a shallot, and cook gently in a heavy-bottomed pan. Add a couple of little gem lettuces, cut into quarters lengthways, and add two tablespoons of water. Add some peas, cook until the lettuces have wilted and the peas are just done, then sprinkle over some chopped mint.
The cooking time in the recipe below is very short indeed. It is extremely rare, but if properly rested it is wonderfully tender. If you prefer your meat a bit more done, butterfly each breast. This is done by placing it skin-side down on a board, cutting a third of the way through and then opening it up slightly. Next, make two cuts, parallel to the board, so that you can open up the breast even more. Don’t salt the meat before cooking, as it tends to dry it out; instead, salt it as soon as you take it out of the pan.
These days, I often use grapeseed or groundnut oil for cooking, rather than olive oil. Neither one adds any flavour, nor do they smoke and burn as much as olive oil at high temperatures.
The cooking time on the beetroot is nil. Raw beetroot might sound strange, but when grated or very finely chopped or sliced, it has a crunchy texture and retains all of its colour.
Ingredients (serves 2)
- A few handfuls of watercress
- 2 tablespoonfuls of pumpkin seeds
- 1 large raw beetroot
- 4 pigeon breasts
- 2 teaspoonfuls of grapeseed or groundnut oil
- 1 tbsp chopped coriander
- 1 tbsp of olive oil
- Sea salt, such as Maldon
For the dressing:
- 2 tsp coriander seeds
- Juice of 1⁄2 lemon
- 2 tsp sugar
- Salt and pepper
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- Start by mixing the dressing. Toast the coriander seeds for half a minute in a dry frying pan over a fairly high heat – this will help bring out the flavour. Crush them in a pestle and mortar, add the lemon juice, sugar and seasoning. Slowly, whisking all the while, add the olive oil. Put to one side.
- Arrange the watercress on the plates. Toast the pumpkin seeds in the same way as the coriander, but for slightly longer – they will start to pop in the pan, and should brown very slightly. Put the pumpkin seeds to one side.
- Peel the beetroot and grate on the coarse side of the grater. Arrange in the middle of the cress.
- Heat the frying pan until it is smoking, add the oil and allow to get very hot. Pepper the pigeon breasts well, but don’t add any salt. Sear for a minute and a half on each side. They should start to feel firm to the touch. Once they’ve been in the pan for three minutes in total, put them in a shallow bowl, add the chopped coriander, a tablespoon of olive oil and crush a couple of pinches of sea salt over them. Cover with a couple of layers of silver foil and allow to rest for five minutes. Meanwhile, pour the dressing over the beetroot and sprinkle with the pumpkin seeds.
- Once the meat has rested, cut it into thin slices and arrange over the cress. Pour the olive oil/coriander mixture over the meat and serve.