Pigeon is one of my favourite game birds, not just for taste, but also because it’s so wonderfully easy to cook, and because it can take robust flavours. While they have no hunting season, pigeons can be particularly plentiful in March and April when the crops are sewn, and again in June and July when certain crops are harvested, making them perfect for a light summer roast lunch, or whenever game takes your fancy.
This is a particular favourite way of mine to cook them in the summer, inspired by how the Italians do them. If you don’t like bitter leaves, then frisée lettuce is a good alternative or can be used in conjunction with the radicchio, just as chicory can be a good way of increasing the bitterness if that’s the way you want to go.
- 4 pigeon, oven ready
- 1 large radicchio lettuce head or 2 small to medium size ones
- 80g smoked lardons
- ½ onion, diced
- 2 cloves of garlic, finely sliced
- 2 pickled beetroot, diced
- Handful of parsley, chopped
- Handful of homemade croutons – fry breadcrumbs and chunks of bread in hot olive oil with dried thyme and sea salt
- Handful of parmesan shavings (optional)
- Sea salt
- Olive oil
For the dressing:
- 2 tablespoons of olive oil
- 1½ tablespoons of lemon juice
- Pinch of salt and pepper
- ½ teaspoon of English mustard powder
Start by rinsing the pigeons under a running tap, then pat dry with kitchen paper and set them aside. Heat the oven to 210°C/190°C Fan.
Prepare the salad by roughly chopping the radicchio and placing it in a large bowl; to this add the parsley and, if using, the parmesan. Make the dressing by combining all the ingredients and set it to one side.
Once the oven is heated, heat some oil in a heavy based frying pan and brown the pigeons on each of the three sides – it shouldn’t take more than a minute a side and may need to be done in batches. Then season them inside and out with salt and pepper and place in the oven on a wire rack over a roasting tray for 7 minutes for pink, 9 for well done.
While the birds are roasting, fry the onion and garlic in a tablespoon of oil until they start to soften (3-5 minutes), then add the lardons and continue to fry until the onions are beginning to colour and sweeten – about another 3-5 minutes. Then turn off the heat and set aside.
While the pigeons rest, finish the salad by adding the diced pickled beetroot and the croutons. Toss all the ingredients together so that they are evenly distributed through the salad.
To plate up divide the salad between the four plates, do the same with the onion and lardons and then place the pigeon on the onion and lardons. Drizzle a little of the dressing over the salad and serve.