Cooking meat on a stick is one of the all-time great discoveries of the world, as proved by this tasty pigeon shawarma, says Tim Maddams. Serves four.
This pigeon shawarma recipe is, by far, at its best cooked over charcoal, but simply searing in a pan will also be perfectly OK if you’re pushed for time. I have refrained from the classic flatbread-style accompaniment and gone for couscous as well as grilled and sliced red peppers — nice ones from a jar will be absolutely fine. Pheasant and partridge would also be worth a try but pigeon, I reckon, is best for this.
Finally, I have added a cheat version of the North African spice and herb paste, chermoula, to add zing and help lift the whole experience above the late-night street vendors’ preference of chilli sauce, garlic mayonnaise and salad. (You’ll find more pigeon recipes and advice on cooking pigeon here.)
Pigeon shawarma recipe with red pepper couscous and chermoula dressing
For the shawarma:
- 8 pigeon breasts, skin removed
- 1 garlic clove, very finely chopped
- 50g natural yoghurt
- ½ tsp ground coriander
- pinch cracked black pepper
- A squeeze of lime juice
- pinch ground mace
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ tsp whole coriander seed
- ½ tsp harissa paste or to taste
Mix everything, except the pigeon, together. Slice the pigeon breasts in three lengthways and mix them with the marinade. Skewer three slices of meat on to each stick and allow to sit for an hour. They’ll keep in the marinade, covered, in the fridge for up to three days.
For the couscous:
- 200g couscous
- 200g roasted red peppers, sliced
Place the couscous in a small mixing bowl and drizzle in a little olive oil, just enough to coat the grains. Season with a little salt and pepper. Stir in 200ml of boiling water, then cover and allow to rest for five minutes. Add the red peppers.
For the chermoula:
- 2 garlic cloves
- 100ml of olive oil
- 1 lemon, juiced
- ¼ lemon zest, finely grated
- 1 tsp sumac
- Half a bunch of mint
- Half a bunch of coriander
- A good pinch chilli flakes
Blitz all the dressing ingredients together. Check seasoning and grate in the zest from the lemon — do not blend to an entirely smooth puree, but aim for an unrefined pesto consistency.
- Toss the cooked and still warm couscous along with the red pepper in quarter of the chermoula, and add the remaining half bunches of mint and coriander. Taste and adjust seasoning as required and toss again.
- Grill the pigeon shawarma, having brought them first to room temperature, until they are cooked — around four minutes each side, turning once. Take care that they are not overdone — you want them a solid medium to medium-well for this dish.
- Allow the cooked meat sticks to rest on a warm plate for two minutes, then assemble the dish, couscous on the bottom, kebabs on the top and extra chermoula for garnish.
Let’s face it, meat on a stick is hard to beat. I often imagine it was born out of necessity; in the misty dawn of cookery, some hunter-gatherer spiked his supper on a rough-hewn tree branch and hung it over the fire to cook in the flames and smoke. It’s a shame there was no Instagram around back then. The meat-on-a-stick concept has been taken in all sorts of directions all over the world: the doner kebab, the shish kebab, satay, souvlaki and now, courtesy of my desperate determination to come up with another way of eating woodies, the pigeon shawarma.
Shawarma is Arabian (Ottoman Empire) in origin, but comes from the Turkish word for turning or rotating. This method allows for easy all-round cooking, easy handling and, in the case of metal skewers, even accelerates the cooking as the metal heats up and radiates the heat within the meat. However, the real genius is in the spice; the addition to the yoghurt marinade not only seasons and flavours the meat to be grilled, but also tenderises it slightly. I have always wanted to experiment with a spinning spit set vertical and an ember-filled wire rack to make my very own shawarma spindle.