Tim Maddams gives pigeon breast the poached capon treatment for Shooting Times. Serves two as a lunch or four as a starter.
Pan-fried pigeon and orange salad
- 4 to 6 pigeon breasts, skinned, seasoned and at room temperature
- A little cooking oil
- 1 tbsp pine nuts
- Half a small red onion
- 2 large oranges
- A dash of good-quality sherry vinegar
- A sprig of fresh thyme
- Salt and pepper
- 8 ripe cherry tomatoes – I blanched them and removed the skins, but that’s not essential
- A small bunch of flat-leaf parsley
- A small bunch of basil
- Olive oil, for dressing
- Pan-fry the pigeon breasts. Season them well first and cook for roughly three minutes per side on a moderate heat, with a little coating of cooking oil. Once cooked to medium, put aside on a plate, allowing them to rest and cool a little.
- Toast the pine nuts in a dry frying pan and set aside.
- Finely slice the onion and prepare the oranges in the fashion described above. Combine with a dash of sherry vinegar and some thyme leaves. Season and add any resting juices from the pigeon. Cut the tomatoes in half. I have blanched them in boiling water for three seconds before putting in iced water and peeling off the skins. This is optional, but it makes all the difference.
- Pick the leaves off the washed parsley and basil, and put into a salad bowl. Toss in some of the toasted pine nuts, tomato, orange and some of the vinegary dressing from the oranges. Slice the pigeon breasts lengthways and add those. Toss everything together and add a little olive oil.
- Divide the salad between the plates, using any leftover orange and onion to garish. Add more olive oil to finish the dish.
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This pan-fried pigeon salad is based on a recipe that has stayed with me over the years. The combination of oranges, vinegar, herbs, olive oil, pine nuts and (at the time) poached capon was irresistible. I was transported instantly to Renaissance Lombardy. At the time, I had no idea where Lombardy was, but the effect of the dish – like so much really great cooking, was transformative. This version with pigeon — which, dare I say, is even better than the poached capon original — was born of creative block. Sometimes, you sit down to plan a photo shoot and a recipe session, but your mind decides you have other things to do. The pressure is on. Like shooting pigeons, which sometimes seem drawn directly to you, recipes can flow out of the mind and into the kitchen easily. At other times, just like pigeons, you have to wait until all the right things click into place. However, the longer it takes to find the right combination, the better the result and this is certainly one such example of that.
The hardest skill needed for this dish is that of removing the flesh from an orange without acquiring the pith or the inter-segment fibre. This is achieved by following the lines. Begin by cutting a slice from the top of the unpeeled orange and then one from the bottom. The orange will be stable on a chopping board. You can now see a cross section of the top of the orange and the edges of the skin and pith within. Starting at the top, make a series of slices down and around the edge of the orange to remove the peel and all the pith to expose the segments within. Then, pick up the peeled orange and gently — over a bowl to catch the juice — cut down the inside of each layer of flesh, as close as possible to the fibrous membrane between each segment. Repeat on the other side, aiming always for the middle of the orange. It should be possible to flick out each segment of orange flesh as you go. You will be left with the fibrous membrane and this is worth a final squeeze to remove any remaining juice, which will find a home in the dressing for the salad.