Pigeon with pea, mint and feta salad

Here’s the latest post and recipe wot I wrote for Borough Market’s website. I have to say the combination of pigeon with the classic summery salad of pea (times 3), mint and feta is a lovely one. It’s definitely worth a crack. Have a look at Borough’s blog too for other seasonal ideas.

“There must be as many pigeons in London as there are people.

Maybe that’s an exaggeration. But it sometimes feels like it. Apparently the number of pigeons in the capital is well into the millions; and over 30,000 of them chill out in Trafalgar Square every day.

So when we talk about eating local food, the food of our terroir (or skies), should we focus on pigeon?

I think yes. Just not the feral, city dwelling ones.

Rather, let’s eat more wood pigeon. The gamey, dark, pink meat is rich in iron, full of flavour, and extremely high in protein. What’s more, wood pigeon is in season pretty much the whole year round and fairly cheap to boot, at around £2.50 per bird (usually less if you buy four of them). You can get them in the market at the Wyndham House butchers and Furness Poultry and Game stands.

I wonder whether the reason they’re not on everyone’s list of staple recipes or ingredients alongside Spag Bol and salmon fillets, is because a scawny, boney looking little wood pigeon might seem daunting to cook. But it shouldn’t.

In fact, wood pigeons are packed with meat and are super quick and easy to cook, requiring very little preparation at all. My preference is to roast the bird whole very quickly, rest it well, then remove the breasts from the carcass. This way the breasts retain their shape much better than if you cook them off the bone. The meat is much more succulent and tender too, and probably more flavoursome. It should be very pink, with the protein strands just set by the heat. When pigeon is overcooked, rubbery and grey, it’s not nearly as good.

You could serve a bird whole, like a grouse or quail. But because the meat is so rich, I personally think it is best to share one wood pigeon between two people (one breast each) as a starter or part of a larger meal. I also think pigeon needs to be paired with a touch of sweetness and / or acidity when you’re eating it. Think sharp berries like sour cherries and blackberries, peppery salads dressed with sherry or moscatel vinegar. Nuts – hazelnut in particular – and seeds are excellent accompaniment too.

After an extremely hot recent trip to the Wyndham house stand, I fancied eating my wood pigeon with a cooling summer salad. Fresh peas, sweet sugarsnaps and mangetout provided sweetness, feta was tangy and salty, and mint and a little bit of lemon juice tied it all together. A great match for the pink breast meat.

Do give the recipe a go and please trust the short cooking times and resting instructions. The result should have you cooing with delight (sorry).”

Pigeon with a peas, mint and feta salad

Serves 2 as a starter

  • 1 wood pigeon
  • 50g mangetout
  • 50g sugar snap peas
  • 50g podded fresh peas / frozen peas
  • 10-15 fresh mint leaves
  • 1 spring onion
  • ¼ lemon
  • 40g feta
  • Extra virgin rapeseed oil
  • Salt and pepper

Remove your pigeon from the fridge 30 minutes to an hour before cooking. If it’s wrapped in cling film, peel that off.

Pre-heat the oven to 150C. Put a pan of salted water on to boil.

First prepare the salad. When the water is boiling, drop in the sugar snap peas. After 30 seconds add the mangetout and the podded peas and cook for a further minute. Drain in a sieve and run cold water over the sieve until the peas are cold. Finely chop the mint leaves and the spring onion. Mix all these ingredients together in a large bowl, with 1 dessert spoon of rapeseed oil, a squeeze of lemon juice and a pinch of salt and pepper. Crumble the feta into the salad and gently stir it through the peas.

To cook the pigeon, first remove the wishbone using a pairing knife. Put a thick based small frying pan on a high flame and add a tablespoon of rapeseed oil. The rapeseed oil is important because it has a high smoke point, so will crisp the pigeon’s skin nicely, but also because its nutty flavour goes really well with the bird.

Allow the pan and oil to heat up for 30 seconds. Season the outside of the pigeon with salt and pepper, then brown the bird for one minute on each side and another 30 seconds on the base. Place it in a small roasting tray or keep in the frying pan if the handle is oven proof. Put in the oven for 5 minutes and 30 seconds.

When the time is up, remove the pigeon from the oven and let it rest for 4 more minutes. This is really important.

Remove the breasts with a sharp knife. This should be easy because you’ve removed the wishbone. Season the underside of each breast with a pinch of good quality sea salt, then cut them in half length ways, serving two halves per person on top of the salad.