Harking back to early memories of pigeon shooting with his uncles, Jose Souto cooks a humble hunters’ dish that has all the flavours of Spain. Serves six.
Some of my favourite memories of shooting, are of heading out with my uncles in Spain in pursuit of woodpigeon and this pigeon paella recipe takes me back to those times.
These adventures always happened around la media veda, which simply means the medium season, beginning in late August and running into September when pigeon and quail can be shot. In Spain, hides are set up on routes where the pigeon are passing through in the early mornings or evenings and it’s quite a test for the hunter as the birds fly high and fast.
Pigeon shooting in Spain is very different to the sport as most of us know it in this country. In Spain, they are generally passing through, while here we have resident flocks, of course, that plunder our crops almost all year round.
On a day’s shooting in Spain, we would always get to the hides before daybreak and wait for the birds to start moving. When they did come, it was usually in ones and twos, just above tree height.
I clearly remember one morning not understanding why they were flying the way they were, until my uncle explained that they were following the edges of the valley and river. The river flowed into a large pool about half a mile away, where they went to drink in the morning and at the end of a hot day. As the birds flew down the valley, further upstream from us there would be other hunters spooking them. But they kept coming, running the gauntlet of Guns with only one thing on their mind — to drink before the day got too hot.
By mid-morning, we would generally have 20 birds in the bag and would then walk-up wild quail with pointers. Wild quail are incredible to shoot. I liken it to walked-up partridge shooting, but with smaller, faster targets that blend into the countryside as they go, providing particularly challenging shooting.
In culinary terms, wild quail are so different from the farmed ones we have in the UK. They are smaller and have a fantastic flavour, especially when cooked on a barbecue or open fire.
By noon, it would be getting hot and we would retreat to the estate’s luncheon house or coto — a small villa-type building with an undulating red clay Mediterranean roof. Here, my uncles put me to the test and I cooked arroz con paloma — a pigeon paella. It’s a very simple, filling, flavoursome dish that hunters all over Spain cook when out in the field.
I used the bones and legs from the birds for stock and put the pigeon breast in with the rice, giant red peppers, Spanish onions from my uncle’s garden and, finally, wild thyme, a plant that is abundant all over the Andalusia countryside.
Pigeon paella recipe
- 6 whole pigeon
- 1.2 litres white game stock or chicken stock
- 1 pinch saffron or .1 pack saffron paella seasoning mix
- 50ml Olive oil
- 1 onion, chopped, small dice
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 200g chorizo
- 2 red peppers, chopped, medium dice
- 1 glass dry white wine
- 300g paella rice
- 1 Sprig fresh thyme
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 beef tomatoes, chopped, medium dice
- 120g frozen peas
- Remove the breasts and legs from the pigeon. Place the legs and bones into the stock and simmer with a pinch of saffron or packet of paella saffron seasoning. Remove the skin from the breasts and cut each into three.
- Add some olive oil to a paella pan. Heat until very hot, quickly fry the pigeon, to colour not cook. Remove from pan. Add more oil to the pan and sweat onions and garlic in it until soft. Add chorizo and peppers and cook for six to eight minutes. Add wine and allow it to reduce by half.
- Once the wine has reduced, add the rice and allow to cook for three to four minutes, stirring so that the oil and wine coats the rice. Add the thyme and bay leaf, then one-third of the strained stock and stir while bringing to the boil.
- As the stock is taken up by the rice, add another third of it and again allow the rice to take it up.
- Add the final third of stock. Once the rice has come back to boil, allow to simmer for five to six minutes. Stir in tomatoes and peas, mixing in well. Cover the pan with foil to form a tight lid. Turn off heat and allow to stand for 10 minutes for the rice to cook through. Remove the foil and serve.