You know the rats with wings that infest our cities, shit on our cars and heads, and befriended a crazy bum on Hey Arnold!? Well they were originally brought to this country for food. We had our own species of pigeon but hungry white men killed those off in no time at all. In the culinary world pigeon is referred to by the euphemism squab and when done right can be delicious. Seeing these birds everyday I wanted to try them once. I had already tried squirrel once as a teen, a rat with good PR, so figured I would try the other rat. As for actual rats, not on the menu any time soon, and may be a while before I am given that opportunity.
Now where to get squab? Bread crumbs and a sling shot? Nope the live poultry butcher on Webster Avenue that I had visited before. My foodie adventure friend unable to make the trip I set off on my own to get us two birds for dinner. Usually I have a thick skin to animal slaughters. I have seen the videos, hunted myself, and know that it is not pretty, but this time was rough, even for me. On our first trip my friend had some trouble with the experience but this time all alone I was having some trouble. What did it was that a local restaurant owner was in there at the same time I was and he was purchasing birds by the dozen. So for the half hour I waited for my two birds I heard the constant screams of chickens headed for slaughter. It is tough sound to hear once but to hear it over and over again was heart wrenching and sent shivers up my spine. Just part of the circle of life though and a much more humane slaughter than in the mass slaughter houses of Perdue.
The two squab that the butcher pulled from their cage for me went down without a fight. Barely resisting as he cupped each one in a hand and headed for the back room. What I do respect the most about Halal slaughter houses is that prayer is part of the process. Though not a religious person myself I do believe that bringing God, in this case more specifically Allah, into the death of an animal is extremely respectful. Before the animal is killed a prayer is said thanking God. I think everyone can learn from this a take thanks every time we eat a meal, especially if it includes meat. Also in the back corner behind the cages is a prayer rug for the men that work there, and for anyone else in there, to pray on.
After paying I was handed my two freshly slaughtered birds and headed home to meat my friend for dinner. I was extremely surprised at home small the birds became. Feathers create an optical illusion making birds look much larger than they actually are and I was expecting the birds to have much larger breasts than they did. Also the flesh was dark, really dark, darker than any chicken dark meat.
To be honest I had no idea what to do with the birds. I did some googling on recipes and had seen the ingredient on Chopped before but just figured I could cook it like any poultry. I had heard and read that they could be served close to medium rare even but weary and scared by popular conceptions of pigeons I wanted to make sure the birds were cooked completely through.
I took the organs they gave me and sauteed them with celery and onion and mixed that with bread crumbs to stuff the birds.
Then I trussed them and put them in an oven I later found out to be way to hot. I also covered them in a glaze of honey and clementine juice.
To go with the pigeons I cooked some red chard and made a faux risotto of quinoa.
The red chard and the quinoa were delicious. The birds not so much. The flesh was one of the toughest meats I had ever had and was as brown as the espresso we enjoyed after dinner. The flavor of the meat was nothing special. Slightly gamey but just so tough I was to worried about chewing than tasting. In hindsight I should have cooked them lower and slower, I think that the fast high heat added to the rubbery tough texture, also maybe letting them age a bit would have helped. Life to plate in under two hours rarely happens and can create tough meat. I would say it is worth a try again but at $8 a pop of a tiny bird I’d much rather wait for a chef who knows what he is doing to cook me one.
Read Chris’s take on the experience here: http://turntableskillets.wordpress.com/2010/12/03/eating-pigeons-the-other-poultry/