Perfect pigeon - why pigeon makes a perfect mealby Robert Gooch February 15 2018
Wild wood pigeon is the perfect meat for anyone looking for healthy, sustainable, locally sourced food. Chefs love it – and we think you will too.
These days, wood pigeon is a regular feature on menus at top restaurants and gastropubs. Yet, while chefs are hooked on its flavour and versatility, a large percentage of the population has never even tried it.
If you’re a wood pigeon eater, you’ll know these delectable little birds provide tasty, tender meat with a rich and complex flavour. We’ve seen our pigeon sales increase steadily in the past few years, with many first-time buyers becoming regular customers. With wood pigeon so abundant – especially here in agricultural Suffolk – we’d now like to see even more people giving it a go.
The sustainable choice
Wood pigeon is the most plentiful edible wild bird we have here in Britain, and readily available throughout the year. In fact, the wood pigeon population has doubled in numbers since the 1980s and is now estimated to be around 2.5 million pairs – much to the despair of farmers. The increase in oil seed rape production offers the wood pigeon an ample diet throughout the year and this feast, along with the wood pigeon’s predilection for berries, is what makes it so plump – and good for the table.
Wood pigeons are a pest to farmers as they can quickly decimate huge areas of crops, meaning humane culling is essential to control their growing population. With sustainability in food production a real concern in today’s world, this is why it’s such a shame wood pigeon isn’t a regular item on more people’s plates.
The difference between wood pigeons and feral pigeons
Many people are confused about the difference between wood pigeons and their cousin, the feral pigeon, most often seen in towns and city centres, scavenging on food waste. But these are two distinct species. Wood pigeons are larger than feral pigeons, which derived from domestically-bred rock doves. Wood pigeons are also distinguished by the broad white bars on their wings, which you won’t find on feral pigeons or dove species.
Cooking wood pigeon
Chefs have helped to popularise wood pigeon but you’ll be glad to know you don't need to be a chef to cook wood pigeon at home! Plucking pigeons can be a messy business but, as we sell them oven ready as well as filleted, cooking ours couldn’t be easier.
Before roasting whole birds, we recommend seasoning and searing them in an ovenproof pan (on their backs, then on their sides and briefly on their breasts until golden brown).
Rapidly seared (one minute each side) and then rested, the soft, succulent boned breast fillets have the fine grain of a prime steak but, thanks to the diversity of its wild diet (seeds, acorns, buds, berries, green crops), a more complex earthy, woodland taste.
Roast at a high heat for a short period.
Slow cook or casserole older birds.
Don’t overcook – these birds have very little fat and you need to keep them moist.
Cover and allow to stand before serving.
Roast: 220°C / Fan 200°C / Gas 7 for 12 minutes
Pan fry fillet/breast: 2-3 minutes on each side
Ideal flavours for wood pigeon
Fruits: blackberries, quince,
Herbs: thyme, rosemary,
Spices: cloves, chilli, ginger, cardamon, juniper
Vegetables: cabbage, celeriac, mushrooms
Our favourite wood pigeon recipes
- Wood Fired Wood Pigeon
- Nigel Slater's Grilled Pigeon & Peas
- Angela Hartnett's Wood Pigeon Salad
- Delia Smith's Braised Wood Pigeon with Cider Apple Sauce
- Oliver Rowe's Pigeon Breast with Red Wine Gravy
- Mike Keen's Rhubarb Pigeon Breasts