ROAST PIGEONS STUFFED WITH APPLE AND RAISINS
Best of Modern British Cookery
by Sarah Freeman
Rearing pigeons used to be a popular amateur activity, since the birds need no ground-space, were cheap to feed, and also regarded as exceptionally pleasant and virtuous: 'Pigeons lead a peaceful, social life ...and under any conditions are distinguished for cleanliness, simplicity and innocence, qualifications in which they afford an example worthy of imitation' (The Poultry Yard, Garden and Farm, 1854-5). To Londoners used to pigeons living off garbage, this perhaps seems hard to believe; however, it may be reassuring to know that those shot for food are almost certainly from the country.
There are various kinds of pigeon, but in terms of eating quality they differ very little. Although not classified as game (and therefore available throughout the year), they have a strong, distinctive gamy flavour. For this reason you might not want to eat them every day, but plump, probably young ones are juicy and tender when roasted, and both the young and not-so-young can be braised or turned into an exceptionally rich-tasting salmi.
Serve with braised celery, green beans, and oven-chip potatoes or sliced potatoes baked with onion. Roast pigeon (in contrast to salmi) is quick; roasting takes only 12-15 minutes.
• 4 oz raisins
• 3 tablespoonsful port
• 2 plump pigeons
• 1 oz streaky unsmoked bacon plus 1 preferably thick-cut fatty rasher
• 3 oz (1 small) onion
• 3 leaves sage
• 1 oz walnuts
• 2 oz (1/2 medium) Cox apple
• 1/2 oz butter
• 1 tablespoonful oil
Set the raisins to soak in 1 tablespoonful of the port; leave to absorb it for 15-20 minutes. Wash the pigeons inside and out, dry the outsides, and season moderately inside and out with salt and lightly outside with pepper. Cut off the rind and finely dice the bacon (use scissors). Peel and finely chop the onion; wash, dry, and finely chop the sage. Finely chop or coarsely crush the nuts. Peel and dice the apple.
Pre-heat the oven to 425°F; prepare and put in the potatoes, which take 30 minutes. Fry the onion and bacon in the butter and oil over medium heat, turning constantly, for 2 minutes; add the apple and fry 2-3 minutes more or until the onion is soft. Add the sage and turn; add the port-soaked raisins, stir, and cook away most of the liquid. Stir in the nuts and remove from the heat.
Stuff the pigeons, inserting the stuffing loosely; set them on a baking tray and cover the breast of each with half the rasher of fatty bacon. Roast for 10 minutes; remove the bacon and roast 3-5 minutes more, (They should be served while still rather rare.) Put them on a serving dish and make gravy from the pan juices quickly brought to the boil with the remaining 2 tablespoonsful of port and a very slight scattering of salt.