Pigeon is a meat which gets a very mixed reaction, for many they automatically think of the dirty grey scraggly ‘rats with wings’ which are so beloved of railway bridges, park benches, and statuesque poets. Not the most appetising of creatures. However wood pigeons are an entirely different matter, plump, well fed and abundant across the countryside the meat from these birds ranks as one of my favourites. So much flavour is parked into their dark breasts and compact carcass. This is a classic no waste dish as the whole pigeon is used, with the breast meat removed for pan frying with the bones making the most delicious stock for cooking your barley in.
Barley is really the staple cereal of the Scots and works really well with the wild meat as it’s robust enough to cope with big flavours while adding it’s own nuttiness and a firm bite. This can work equally well as a starter or a main course.
Pan fried pigeon with walnut and barley risotto
(Serves 4 as a starter or 2 as a main course)
2 pigeons breasts removed and carcass retained
2 sprigs thyme
1tsp sea salt
2 cloves garlic
2 banana shallots
1 tbsp walnut oil
80g pearl barley
75ml vermouth (or 100ml dry white wine as an alternative)
Handful walnuts crushed
Cover the pigeon carcasses with water in a heavy based pan, add a sprig of thyme and the salt, and slowly bring to a simmer. Simmer for at least one hour then discard the bones and retain the liquor which should’ve reduced to around 500ml.
In a separate saute pan heat the oil and butter and sweat the garlic and shallots with the thyme leaves until translucent. Add the barley, stir to cover and cook for a couple of minutes.
Increase the heat and add in the vermouth/wine and stir until evaporated. Add the retained stock and continue to cook over a low/medium heat until evaporated and the barley is cooked but firm to the bite, around 15 minutes.
Meanwhile season the pigeon breasts with salt and rub with a little more walnut oil. When the barley is almost cooked, heat a griddle or drying pan to a high heat then reduce to medium and place the breasts in skin side down, cook for 2-3 minutes then turn over and cook for another 2-3 minutes, depending on the size of the bird, until tender.
Remove the barley from the heat, stir through the walnuts to warm slightly and serve alongside the pigeon.