Pigeons are more popular articles of diet than is generally supposed. Many people regard them principally as belonging to invalid dietary, but this is quite an erroneous view to take. One might just as correctly catalogue them as fare for epicures. They certainly are popular with epicures, and they are excellent “light diet” for the convalescent’s tray. But conceding all this, yet we must also allow that pigeons are considered to be good eating by just the average and robust appetite.
How best to cook them? There are many ways, but one of the very best is to follow Norwegian custom and cook them as they cook ptarmigan. The following is a recipe given by Mrs. C. W. Earle In her delightful gardening book, which contains so many dainty home and cookery notes amongst its plant and flower lore. “Stew them quite fresh,” she advises, “in an earthenware stewpan (with the livers, etc., chopped up inside them), in good stock with a lot of vegetables cut up, especially onion and a bunch of herbs, which is removed before serving. Serve with a hot compote of cherries (bottled or dried) or cranberries, instead of the usual red currant jelly.” This is a somewhat sumptuous dish – if one serves it with the hot compote. Otherwise it is perfectly simple – as simple as stewed chicken. When preparing it for the invalid’s tray, or as a dish for people with delicate digestions, it is as well, nay wiser to leave out the cherry compote altogether, and to exercise discretion in the choice of vegetables. Shallot might be substituted for onion, and fresh green peas or little pieces of cauliflower for the less digestible root, vegetables, carrot, turnip, etc. Four pigeons jugged will make a good and sufficient dish for six people, provided of course their appetites be nothing extraordinary.
An English cookery book suggests they be soaked in wine for an hour or two before being prepared for the casserole dish or earthenware jar. This suggestion may be unfavourably received by the thrifty housewife, who considers pigeons without wine as unnecessary extravagances (when one can do very well on rabbit-o!), but there are purses and purses. Therefore, the housewife, intent on serving a recherché little dinner will do well indeed to soak her pigeons in wine for an hour or two as a preliminary step in the cooking process.
While they are soaking she can prepare her stuffing as follows: Mix together a few breadcrumbs, a little minced bacon, a little sage, and a chopped onion; add a well beaten egg, and stuff the bodies of the pigeons with this, fastening up securely so that none of it escapes to be lost in the pot. Finally, lift the birds out of the wine, lay them, carefully stuffed, in a deep casserole dish or stewpan, and cover with a pint of good gravy. Let them simmer for an hour when they will be tender and delicious. They may then be sent to table, with the gravy thickened, or they may be further improved by lifting them from the stewpan, draining them free from gravy, egg and breadcrumbing them, and baking them in the oven for about ten minutes. Butter should be used for basting purposes, or their delicate flavour will be spoiled. Again return the pigeons to the gravy, which must be so reduced in quantity that it does not touch their breasts, otherwise the raspings will be soggy. Allow all to almost reach simmering point, and to remain at that for half an hour. Serve with red currant jelly.
The above recipe gives a dish that is particularly tempting to an invalid’s appetite. Moreover, it is a very nourishing and stimulating dish. But, if it be objected that the flavour of wine is too strong, the birds need not be soaked in wine, but merely a table spoonful or so added to the gravy.
To roast pigeons, prepare them with a stuffing like the one just named, or try one made with a few breadcrumbs, a little butter, pepper and salt to taste, and some chopped parsley. This is suitable for those who dislike the onion flavouring. Put a ball of this stuffing or forcemeat inside each bird, and make it secure. Truss firmly with the legs forward, the wings to the side, and points turned over the back, and pass string round the skewers. Baste with butter or lard, and cook in a strictly moderate oven, covering them with a piece of grease-proof paper. They will take about 20 minutes to cook. Serve with plenty of good gravy and red currant jelly.
The pigeon ranks neither as game nor as poultry. One must just count it as bird, and its mission on the diet list to relieve monotony, and particularly to furnish a delicate and nourishing food for those unable to digest sterner stuff. For the rest, it may become either game or poultry, according to the treatment the cook metes out to it. Jugged it suggests hare, stewed it may imitate ptarmigan, or roast it may pass in the same category as chicken. However, grilled it remains plain bird – or pigeon – of no set class at all.
To prepare pigeons for the griller, first split the birds down the back, and flatten them out with a tight rolling pin or cutlet “bat.” Skewer into shape. Then brush them over with butter, season with pepper and salt, and grill for from 15 to 20 minutes, turning frequently. Serve with mushroom or tomato sauce.
In England and the northern hemisphere the average housewife, with the strictly limited purse, may be in no better position than her sister in Australia as regards choice of foods. But the better to do housekeeper appears to be infinitely richer as regards power to choose. She may buy game and birds we in Australia know little of. We have hare, and wild duck; yes, and quail and pigeons. But just dip into any English cookery book, ancient or modern. You will find there the cook is informed how to deal with larks, black cock, grouse, partridge, ortolans, pheasant, snipe, venison, widgeon, woodcock, etc. Such things would strangely embarrass the average Australian cook, who often enough is perplexed how to deal with pigeon, wild duck, quail, and those very queer things, muttonbirds.
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