We have a bounty of year-round wood pigeon in the UK and it is to our shame that we don’t eat nearly as much of this delicious, healthy meat as we should.
While good restaurants have featured it for many years, it is rare to find it used to any great degree in our homes, perhaps partly due to the bird’s reputation as a pest and also the unfamiliarity around cooking it.
Unlike its urban cousin, the countryside wild pigeon has a clean, varied diet of grains, peas, seeds and herbs, which means the meat has great depth of flavour. The pigeon’s varied diet and busy flight style means its meat retains a naturally sweet-sour flavour.
As a lean meat it needs the addition of some fat to help keep things nice and moist. The sweet-sour marinade accentuates the natural flavour of the bird while at the same time tenderising the meat, creating a delicious glaze.
Serves 4 as a tapas meal or 2 as a starter
4 small oven-ready wood pigeons, spatchcocked (backbones removed and breasts flattened – your butcher will do this for you)
100ml pomegranate molasses
50ml red wine vinegar (such as Cabernet Sauvignon)
A small handful of rosemary leaves, finely chopped
8 thin strips of lardo (or fatty pancetta)
Seeds from ½ pomegranate
Sea salt and black pepper
Preheat the oven to 180°C.
Lay the pigeons out skin-side up on a tray. Season well and pour over the molasses and vinegar. Rub all over into the meat. Sprinkle with the rosemary, then leave the birds to marinate for an hour or so.
Meanwhile, spread the walnuts in a small baking tray and drizzle over some olive oil. Toast in the oven for seven minutes or until fragrant and the oils have started to leach from the nuts.
Remove from the oven and immediately sprinkle with plenty of sea salt. Set aside.
Heat a large sauté pan over a medium heat and add a glug of olive oil. When the oil is hot, fry the pigeons, one or two at a time, for two minutes on each side. Transfer to a roasting tin, placing the birds skin-side up. Lay the lardo strips across the pigeon breasts. Add any marinade remaining in the tray. Roast for 8-10 minutes.
Remove from the oven and leave to rest for a few minutes before serving, sprinkled with fresh pomegranate seeds and the salted walnuts.