June 2nd, 2010

Roasted Woodpigeon Breast with Pickled Morel Mushrooms and Watercress Emulsion

Everyone has probably used the old cliche of ‘ not judging a book by it’s cover’ more than once in their lifetime. I used to cast this judgment on pigeons. I could not  think of them as food! ……my thoughts went from someones pet to…..urghhh they are the flying rats in the City pooping on Nelsons head.

Well seriously we get angry with these birds especially as they raid the freshly sown fields and farmers try their utmost to keep them at bay. I have seen some incredibly funky and clever tricks that farmers use from dangling glimmering old CD’s to a scarecrow or even a fake shotgun sound randomly clapping away at all hours of the day. The truth is  nothing really works. There are too many of them and if you can’t beat it, eat it!

Woodpigoens are delicious and have been a delicacy served on many restaurant menus for generations. The saddest thing was that when I used to work as a young chef in a top London restaurant we used to receive these plump birds from France. The memory is clear as if it was yesterday, we received them with their heads, feet on and insides intact. My first job of the morning at 6:30am was to gut these birds and you could still see the food they had eaten. You might think that’s a bad memory but for me it’s beautiful memory for me to savour, but it did make me gag at the time.

Woodpigeons can be absolutely awful if they are over cooked, so the trick of the trade is to cook them lightly and serve it pink or medium rare. Resting  is just as important as the cooking, the normal rule of thumb is to rest the meat for the same length as the cooking time. This ensures that the meat absorbs all the moisture it lost during  cooking  and there is no excess “blood” like liquid on the plate, the meat relaxes and is juicy and tender.

I also recommend that you should buy woodpigeons from a reputable supplier or someone you know, you do not want to purchase a bird riddled with lead pellets.

The pickled morels, watercress emulsion and salt-baked Cheltenham beetroots compliment  the woodpigeon meat perfectly.There is not a season for Woodpigeons , they could be eaten all year round but I prefer them in the spring or autumn when it’s more temperate and they can graze on plenty of good food, the birds are plump and well fed. In the bitter cold winter months there is not much for them to eat so they are a bit on the thin side and during the summer they are active and work really hard.

I hope that the London restaurant chefs will change their opinions and start to use our own British woodpigeons and help the British farmers to make use of these tasty local annoyances.

Salt-baked Cheltenham beetroot

  • 4 elongated Cheltenham beetroots
  • 4tbs Fleur de Sel

Preheat the oven to 160°C. Wash the beetroots, scrub the skin and remove the leaves, but leave a small piece of the leaf stalk attached to the beetroot. Cover the damp beetroot in the Fleur de Sel, lay them on a baking tray and place the tray in the preheated oven for one-and-a-half hours.

Let the beetroots cool and then dust off as much salt as possible. Cut them in half if they are small and quarters if they are larger. Brush the baked beetroots with oil and set aside until needed.

Spelt Salad

  • 120g cooked spelt grains
  • 1tbs chopped chives
  • 1tbs chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 1tbs extra virgin olive oil
  • 1tsp sherry vinegar
  • Salt and freshly cracked black pepper

Mix the cooked spelt grains with the herbs, oil and vinegar, season to taste and leave to develop flavours for 10 minutes.

Pickled Morel Mushrooms

  • 100ml rapeseed oil
  • 2tsp sherry vinegar
  • 1 sprig of thyme, leaves only
  • Pinch of sugar
  • 200g morel mushrooms, cleaned and sliced

Clean the morel mushrooms and cut them into rings. Heat 1tbs of oil in a medium non-stick frying pan and sauté the morel mushrooms with seasoning for two minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat then add the thyme leaves, sherry vinegar and the rest of the oil. Let the oil heat through with the heat of the pan then set aside for 20 minutes.

Watercress Emulsion

  • 50g picked watercress leaves
  • 50ml rapeseed oil
  • 1tsp Dijon mustard
  • Pinch of sugar
  • Salt and freshly cracked black pepper

Place all the ingredients, apart from the oil for the watercress emulsion, in a blender and blend until smooth. Add the oil slowly while blending to form an emulsion.

Roasted Woodpigeon

  • 2 woodpigeons
  • Salt and freshly cracked black pepper
  • 10g unsalted butter
  • 10ml olive oil

Preheat the oven to 200°C. Heat the oil and butter in a non-stick frying pan, season the pigeons and colour them golden brown for one minute on each breast, then transfer the pigeons to a roasting tray and place them in the preheated oven for four minutes.

Let the pigeons rest for six minutes, remove the breast from the carcase and serve.

To serve

Place three pieces of the salt-baked beetroots on the plate and spoon the spelt salad in the centre. Drain the morel mushrooms and place them on the plate, drizzle the watercress emulsion and place one pigeon breast on top of the spelt salad. Garnish the plate with fresh rosemary flowers and sprigs of fresh watercress.

Serves 4

Print Recipe Print Recipe with Photo

9 Comments to “Roasted Woodpigeon Breast with Pickled Morel Mushrooms and Watercress Emulsion”

  1. Daniel Klein says:

    oh, i guess they are beets, not carrots… even better!

  2. Daniel Klein says:

    Stumbled on this photo at tastespotting – looks ingredible, the purple carrots with the wood pigeon is a great visual, and then the watercress… amazing. Thought you might be interested in a video I did on morels…. https://bit.ly/8Yrcby – keep up the good work. daniel

  3. earnword says:

    thanks for the recipi. I will try it.

  4. Stunning as always. I love your attention to detail and your use of quick-pickling. I have some morels that are waiting to be used! You never cease to inspire me!

  5. Barry says:

    First Class plate presentation.. like the beetroot idea… cant get spelt in Mauritius so was thinking of ‘petit haricots blancs’ instead.. what do you think

  6. Madalene says:

    Hi Barry,

    I’m so pleased to hear from you!! I love your ‘petit haricot blancs’ suggestion, it sounds fantastic and I know it’s a match made in heaven!!

    Happy Cooking,


  7. Eleanor says:

    Hi Madeline,

    Sounds great and would like to try it–or at least bits of the recipe. (May skip the morels!)

    I am sure you have probably talked about this elsewhere, but I seem to have missed it–what’s Fleur de Sel?

    All the best,

  8. Madalene says:

    Hi Eleanor,

    Thank you for your comet on this dish. I have not explained what Fleur-de-sel is so I apologise for that. I’m in cheffy mode.

    The definition is: Fleur de sel (“Flower of salt” in French) is a hand-harvested sea salt collected by workers who scrape only the top layer of salt before it sinks to the bottom of large salt pans. Traditional French fleur de sel is collected off the coast of Brittany (most notably in the towns of Guérande – Fleur de Sel de Guérande, hand harvested from salt marsh water being the most revered), Noirmoutier, and also Camargue. It is often slightly grey due to the sandy minerals collected in the process of harvesting the salt from the pans. On occasion, the presence of Dunaliella salina (a type of pink microalgae commonly found in salt marshes) can give it a light pink tint. Due to its relative scarcity, Fleur de sel is one of the more expensive salts. It is usually sold in airtight jars as it is slightly damp.[citation needed]

    Happy Cooking

  9. peter thomas says:

    I buy woodpigeon quite often from my local farm market, as you say they are delicious, it’s a shame more people don’t try them, a good cheap tasty food, and as you say it helps our farmers control them, thx for the recipe and keep up the excellent work you do with your site :) ))))

Leave a Comment