Pigeon has to be my favourite meat hands down, for a while beef and lamb where up there, but the free-rangeness of the wood pigeon and the fact it is wild is a comforting thought indeed. I’ve never bothered so much with chicken- it’s a tasteless bird on the whole and after HFW’s big chicken out campaign I thought rather than fork out an extortionate amount for blandness, I stopped buying it all together, same with fish unless I catch them myself. Too much fuss and politics to inflict on the palate methinks.
Pigeon are wily buggers indeed and taking them down can be frustrating. A couple of key features in the pigeon’s survival kit is unbelievably quick flight (50mph-80mph) and, more importantly, seriously good eyesight with the ability to clock an Englishman peeing in the woods a mile away.
The only real success I have had with them, in terms of sheer numbers is from decoying, but they have succumbed in some odd ways over the years: A shot with an air rifle whilst relaxing in a hammock chair on the Tree house balcony (easy supper), once whilst paddling down a river in a coracle they dropped from the sky into the boat (nearby decoyers) and lastly but by no means leastly- taking a bush pee in a hedgerow, 12-bore under arm and taking a unobservant passer by down, tackle out (bird must have been blind- Jammy beyond belief).
Being a fine, lean red meat, pigeon seemed perfect for Carpaccio so I decided to do some playing around in the kitchen. Carpaccio is actually rather a recent taste sensation and as we know it, has only been with us since the 1950’s: Ever since Countess Amalia Nani Mocenigo walked into Harry’s Bar in Venice (also the home of the Bellini) and informed the propreiter that her doctor had recommended she only eat raw meat. The dish that Giuseppe Cipriani, the then owner produced, was so named because the colours of the food reminded him of the paintings by the Venetian painter Vittore Carpaccio. Bang, bosh, shebing.
The portable HQ- always busy morning, noon and night with taster dishes.
Last weekend I took Hunter:Gather:Cook on the road to Wilderness Gathering with my trusty companion Ash (he has a fine blog on outdoor cooking escapades-check out here) to cook up plenty of wild fodder for bushcraft enthusiasts aplenty. We also took along a roe buck and a dozen pigeons and rabbits to play with over the three days. Pit Roast venison, cold smoked venison, puffball and rabbit pie, wild salads, panfried saddle of rabbit wrapped in parma ham with sage & mustard, beetroot borscht with horseradish cream were just a few of the dishes we knocked together to showcase what HGC is all about (Ash even manged to collaborate on a cake baked in his dutch oven and won 1st prize in the cake comp!).
A wonderful festival and we met some great folks- definitely keen for next year. This recipe is a revised version of the improvised one I knocked together for our ‘small game preparation and cooking’ workshop. The feedback was excellent, but not as good as our ‘Wild Brewing’ workshop which included plenty of samples!
This recipe does require a bit of preparation- at least 12 hours in a marinade, but 24 if possible. Alternatively, if you wish to do it immediately, you can smoke the pigeon over smouldering oak or sawdust for an hour to give it a bit of a smoky flavour.
Wild ingredients are, as ever, a great addition to this recipe and there are some perfect matches in the hedgerows at the moment which coincide nicely with the amount of pigeon decoying going on across the country- farmer’s crops need protecting, so if you cant go out and shoot them yourself, most good Game dealers should have plenty in stock.
Wild Horseradish growing near Black Cap on the South Downs.
The two wild additions for the Carpaccio are Horseradish (both young leaves and the fiery root) wood sorrel (for sharpness) and elderberries. A word on these- The young leaves of horseradish have a nice pepperiness to them and a slight bitterness which make a good substitute for rocket. Elderberries do contain minute traces of cyanide, which is broken down by cooking, although a small handful of raw berries is harmless.
For the marinade:
- 6 pigeon breasts
- 150ml olive oil
- 50ml cider vinegar
- 2 cloves of garlic (roughly chopped)
- 1 carrot (roughly chopped)
- 1 stick of celery (roughly chopped)
- 1 small red onion (roughly chopped)
- Black pepper (good twist)
- 1tsp Salt
- 2 sprigs of rosemary
- 4 bay leaves
Mix together in a bowl, cover and refrigerate overnight. Put the breasts in the freezer for 1 hour before cutting wafer thin.
- 1/2 horseradish root (grated)
- Handful of young horseradish leaves
- 1 cluster of elderberries
- Parmesan shavings
- Wood sorrel
- Gherkins (chopped
- Olive oil
- Squeeze of lemon
- Salt & pepper
Arrange all ingredients on a large plate, season to taste and serve with fine red wine and crusty bread.