Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Roasted pigeon with confit leg, Jerusalem artichoke puree, fondant potato and chanterelles

Talking about food with other food enthusiasts is always a real pleasure, and there is always something to be learned from finding out what they are cooking and eating. Last weekend I was back at Borough Market, this time accompanied by an old friend and very able cook who I hadn’t seen in a long time. It was brilliant to just walk round the various stalls looking eagerly at the masses of jaw dropping produce. We discussed how we would tackle the scallops the size of a fist, or rabbits still hanging in their skin, and my mind was buzzing with new ideas for the future.

The main reason for going back to the market was to pick up the ingredients for this recipe. I had been meaning to cook pigeon for ages, and somehow every time managed to make something else instead, but now the game season is back in flow it seemed like the perfect time. You can buy just about any ingredient you can think of at Borough, and in no time at all I had picked up a few fine pigeons. And at nine pounds for four birds, what a bargain they were. Although I was only cooking this recipe for two, I wanted the sauce to accompany the dish to be full of flavour and decided to use the carcass of one additional bird for an added boost. The remaining pigeon is sitting happily in my freezer until I fancy a quick pigeon salad or a game pie comes calling.

Borough is also one of the best places to buy decent mushrooms. Although I have excellent fruit and veg shops near to my home in north London, all anywhere seem to sell are the same old chestnut, button or portobello mushrooms, perhaps with a few shabby oysters or shitake thrown in. The main fruit and veg stall at Borough has a huge variety, and I had to stop myself from buying too many for other dishes that instantly popped into my head. I wanted some lovely chanterelles, and walked away happy with a bag full of the beautiful delicate golden yellow mushrooms. I had a day or so before I planned to cook this meal, and I just couldn’t wait to get cracking!

Pigeon is a bit of a marmite ingredient for many people. I think that it often conjures images of scabby London pigeons with gnarled feet pecking on rubbish, when game pigeons are the total opposite. They need to be tasted to be truly appreciated, with a strong iron flavour and wonderfully tender meat. They need to be cooked rare or slowly braised though, anything in between will be like chewing cardboard. Now that autumn is upon us, the flavour of pigeon combined with root veg, salty ham and peas is so comforting. 

This recipe is long and cooking it will take a little while but it really is worth it. The finished meal is great to look at and full of flavour. The confit legs and use of an additional carcass is optional, but will make the end result that little bit better if you have the time. The most stressful time when cooking this meal is at the end, when you have loads of pans cooking simultaneously. The key is to just remember that most things are being cooked gently, and will not be ruined if ignored for a few seconds. After a bit of practice it is easy. 


Serves 2

2 pigeons, crowns separated, legs kept for confit and rest of carcass kept for the sauce
Optional: 1 additional pigeon carcass

For the sauce:

1 large shallot, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, left whole but crushed slightly
10 sprigs of thyme
1 bay leaf
50ml brandy
500ml good chicken stock
1 knob of butter
4 tbsp frozen peas, defrosted
Salt and pepper

For the pigeon leg confit:

2 pigeon legs
800ml duck or goose fat, or enough to cover everything well
3 garlic cloves, unpeeled
5 sprigs thyme

For the Jerusalem artichoke puree:

500g jerusalem artichokes, peeled and chopped into 1in pieces
3 tbsp double cream
2 tbsp fresh thyme leaves, stalks discarded
Salt and pepper

For the fondant potatoes:

2 large king edward potatoes 
10 sprigs thyme
200ml chicken stock
1 knob of butter

For the chanterelles:

2 slices parma ham
200g chanterelle mushrooms, brushed clean
1 large garlic clove, finely chopped
1/2 a shallot, finely chopped
3 tbsp flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
1 large knob of butter
Salt and pepper

For the savoy cabbage:

3 large savoy cabbage leaves, finely shredded
1/2 a shallot, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 anchovy fillet, finely shopped
1 large knob of butter
50ml chicken stock
Salt and pepper

Firstly make the confit pigeon legs. Tie the legs with string to keep the flesh together while they cook. Melt the duck fat in a small saucepan with the thyme and garlic, then add the legs, topping up with more fat if they are not submerged. Heat up to 90ºC and keep at a constant temperature for 2 hours. Keep submerged in the fat and allow to cool. This process can be done a couple of days in advance.

To make the sauce to go with the dish, heat up a little oil in a large frying pan or skillet until hot. Sear the parts of the pigeon carcass that have been removed from the crown, along with the additional pigeon carcass if using, until they are a dark brown colour. Turn the heat down to a medium heat and add the shallot, garlic, thyme and bay leaf, and cook for another couple of minutes until well coloured. Pour in the brandy and set alight to burn away the alcohol. Once the flames have gone out, reduce slightly then pour in the hot chicken stock. Season, combine, and allow to reduce right down until only about 150ml of liquid is left. Strain and set aside to finish off while the pigeon is cooking. 

For the puree, put the pieces of jerusalem artichoke into a small saucepan and cover with salted water. Bring to the boil and cook until tender, about 10-15 minutes. When cooked, drain and tip into a food processor with the cream, thyme and seasoning. Blitz until smooth before tasting and adjusting. Put back into the saucepan and cover with cling film until needed.

To make the parma ham baskets, preheat the oven to 200ºC. Line the bottom of two slots of a muffin tray with discs of greaseproof paper. Arrange the parma ham around the bottom and sides of the tray to form a cup shape. Put another disc of greaseproof paper at the bottom of the ham cup and stack another muffin tray on top of the one with the ham. This will make the cups keep their shape. Put in the hot oven for 8 minutes, before removing the top muffin tray and top piece of greaseproof paper. Put the uncovered tray back in the oven for another 2-3 minutes, or until the ham is crisp. Allow to cool in the trays and set aside. 

Turn the oven down to 180ºC

For the fondant potatoes, peel the potatoes and cut the edges so that you are left with a thick cross-section. Using a pastry cutter, push through the potatoes to create 2 cylinders. Put a non-stick frying pan onto a high heat and add 2 tbsp of the fat from the confit saucepan. When hot, add a knob of butter and the thyme, and fry the potatoes on each flat side until they are nicely browned and crispy. Place the potatoes into a small, high sided oven dish and add the cooking liquid and thyme. Season well. Top up with hot stock until half way up the potatoes. Put into the oven for 25 minutes, or until a knife is easily inserted into the side. Try and time the cooking of the potatoes to go with the cooking of the pigeon (including the resting time).

To cook the pigeon, heat a frying pan to a high heat with a little olive oil. When hot, sear the pigeon crowns for about a minute on each breast or until they are browned. Transfer to an oven dish, add the confit legs and put into the oven for 6 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to rest for another five minutes before carving the breasts. 

While the pigeon is cooking, cook the savoy cabbage. Melt the butter in a frying pan on a medium heat and add the shallot, garlic and anchovy. Cook for about 2 minutes until softened, then add the savoy cabbage and the chicken stock. Stir to combine and cook for another 2 minutes, or until al dente. Taste and season.

At the same time, cook the mushrooms. Add the butter to the frying pan used to sear the pigeon and melt on a medium heat. Add the garlic and shallot and cook for a minute or so to to soften. Add the mushrooms and continue to cook until buttery and tender, another couple of minutes. Taste and season. 

Also at the same time, slowly heat up the artichoke puree and finish the pigeon sauce. Gently heat up the sauce in a small saucepan, and when warm add the butter and stir well, until melted and combined. Taste, season and add more butter if needed. Add the peas two minutes before serving and stir occasionally.

A couple of minutes before serving, put the muffin tray with the parma ham cups back into the oven to heat back up. Be careful not to leave them in there for too long. 

To plate up, place the fondant potato on the plate, and put the confit leg on top. Place the ham cup next to the potato, and fill with the chanterelles. Spoon a good amount of the puree onto the plate next to them, and top with some of the savoy cabbage. Arrange the pigeon breasts on top of this. Spoon a little sauce carefully onto the pigeon/puree/cabbage, and then drizzle around the plate. Serve with a nice glass of red wine. 

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