Yes, there were turkeys in the market but I just couldn’t bring myself to buy one for just the two of us. Instead, I decided to try cooking a fowl I had never cooked before… Pigeon.
Actually, it was “Pigeonneau” to be exact, which means “young pigeon.” The bird was from Bresse, which, when it comes to fowl, has its own “appellation controlleé,” just like certain wines.
French butchers are very proud of how fresh their meat is, and to advertise this fact they leave both the feet and head on the bird. I must admit, dealing with a feathered head with its beady little eyes can be a bit disconcerting!
I was amazed at the colour of the meat. It is so red! Just as red as beef or ostrich. I was also surprised at just how big this beast was. This was no rock pigeon that you see flying about the city, it was even larger than the wood pigeons we sometimes see in the forest. In fact, with a little stretching, this one bird could feed the two of us. Can you imagine if our city pigeons were this size? Oh, the mess!
Thank goodness for the Web! Even though I had never cooked a pigeon before, there were a multitude of sites that were there for me. I chose to base my cooking on “Great British Chefs.” So, after cleaning the bird, I butterflied it by opening it along the spine, seasoning it, and then searing it, breast side down, in olive oil. I must admit, in trying to brown the rest of the breast, I may have overdone the area at the top of the breast bone. It looked charred… and I hadn’t even started roasting it yet!
Knowing that the bird was a little small for two, I made a stuffing based on some leftover pork pâté, adding fried onion, garlic, and celery to breadcrumbs. We didn’t have any sage, so I used tarragon.
According to “Great British Chefs” the pigeon was only supposed to cook for 8 minutes in the oven, hence I par-boiled my carrots and potatoes ahead of time so they could all roast with the pigeon together. I stuffed the bird, added the carrots and potatoes to the pan. After a few minutes, the juices started to caramelize so I added a bit of stock to the bottom.
To add credence to my theory that Bresse pigeonneau are larger than British “squab,” my pigeon was no where near ready in the time frame suggested. No matter, I just added a little more stock and shoved it back in the oven with a covering of tinfoil.
When it was finally ready, the poor bird was so dark, it looked a little like it had been struck by lightning. I tented it with the tinfoil and let it rest for a while while I made the gravy and assembled the other menu items: salad and (since we were in France) ratatouille.
Despite it’s rather blasted appearance, the pigeon was excellent! Not over cooked at all! We really enjoyed the legs and thighs with their rich but not gamey flavour. The breast had a bit of a liver-like texture but with gravy it too was great.
My only regret is that I couldn’t find cranberry sauce!