Thursday, 17 September 2015

Roast pigeon with prosciutto, sweetcorn, sage and onions

The days that I spend cooking for this blog are often hurried and frantic affairs. In the mornings I’m out and about gathering the required ingredients, before returning back home to turn them all into a finished (and hopefully successful) dish. In theory a fairly simple and straightforward plan. But often enough something goes amiss and the whole ordeal becomes much more stressful. Especially for something meant to be a hobby. And last week was a prime example. 

Things didn’t get off to the best of starts; I overslept. This wasn’t the greatest of problems really, and in truth Mondays are also my only real day of the week to get some rest. But it set me behind schedule, and my window for messing about in the kitchen was getting smaller and smaller. What I really wanted to buy was a grouse or two. Since the Glorious Twelfth, my social media feeds have been jam-packed with them, and I wanted to have another crack at cooking them. But could I find one? Could I heck. A few tubes and buses covering a London map of butchers later and I still had empty bags and even less cooking time. Stuck on Oxford Street amongst the crowds, things were looking pretty desperate. But then I remembered that there was a rather good branch of the Ginger Pig, not too far away in Marylebone, so I walked up to chance my luck one more time.
They also didn’t have any grouse. Bah! But what they did have were a couple of lovely, plump pigeons. At that stage of the day, I snapped them up. With the recipe cogs whirring around in my head, I darted next door to the mecca that is La Fromagerie for some bits to accompany the bird, and I was soon sat on the bus home with a bag laden with beautiful sweetcorn, cavolo nero and prosciutto. Soon the light would be fading, threatening rubbish photography and a wasted day, so I had to work quickly.
I wasn’t too disappointed to be lumped with pigeon instead of my desired grouse. I haven’t tackled a pigeon for a good few years, but they remain one of my favourite things to eat. I love that gamey richness and tender, pink flesh. And because the birds were whole, literally heads, claws and guts, it meant that I also had access to the wonderful offal. Whilst the trimmings and liver helped to make the sauce deep and flavourful, the heart was simply pan-roasted, adding another dimension to the finished dish. I never mess around with the cooking of smaller poultry, in my opinion roasting the crowns before carving is the only way to go.
The rest of the dish is a simple balance of early autumn flavours. The sweetcorn provides a wonderful sweetness that cuts through the powerful flavour of the pigeon. Sage and onion are practically married. I’ll still try and track down a grouse this season, but in the end I was pleased as punch with my pigeon.
Serves 2
For the pigeon:
2 pigeons, portioned into crowns with wishbones removed. Trimmings, hearts and livers kept 
4 slices of prosciutto 
4 sprigs of thyme 
2 sage leaves 
1 knob of butter
For the sauce:
The wings, legs, livers and trimmings from the pigeons 
1 onion, finely chopped 
1 carrot, finely chopped 
2 garlic cloves, crushed 
2 slices of prosciutto, chopped 
5 sprigs of thyme 
1 generous splash of brandy 
750ml good chicken stock 
1 knob of butter
For the smashed sweetcorn:
The kernels from 2 sweetcorn cobs, released with a knife 
75g butter 
500ml water
For the charred sweetcorn:
The kernels from 1 sweetcorn cob, released with a knife 
1 small knob of butter
For the burnt onion:
1 small onion, skin left on and halved vertically 
½ a lemon, juice only
For the cavolo nero:
3-4 cavolo nero leaves, any tough stalks removed, leaves roughly chopped
For the pigeon hearts:
The hearts from the two pigeons, cleaned of any sinew

Get the pigeon sauce on first. Bring a large, heavy frying pan up to a medium-high temperature and add a good glug of olive oil. Season the pigeon legs, wings, trimmings and livers with salt and pepper and brown well on all sides, in batches if necessary. Add the prosciutto, onions, carrots, garlic and herbs to the pan and cook until lightly caramelised. Pour in the brandy and carefully flambĂ©, then reduce until only a small amount remains. Top up with the chicken stock and bring to the boil. Use a wooden spoon to scrape up and caramelised bits from the bottom of the pan. Reduce slowly until only around 150ml of thickened sauce remains. Strain the sauce through a sieve into a smaller saucepan and discard the used flavourings. Whisk the knob of butter into the sauce until fully emulsified, then cover and set aside until needed later. 

Bring a frying pan up to a high heat and add a small amount of olive oil and a knob of butter. When hot, add the smaller amount of sweetcorn kernels and a good pinch of salt and pepper. Fry for a few minutes, stirring frequently, until starting to brown and blacken. Tip into a bowl and set aside.
Pour the water for the smashed sweetcorn into a saucepan and bring to the boil. Tip in the sweetcorn kernels, butter and a good amount of seasoning. Stir to combine, then simmer for 8-10 minutes, or until the sweetcorn has softened and taken on some of the liquid. Using a hand blender or food processor, blitz into a coarse, yet soft mash. Loosen with a little water if necessary, and taste for seasoning and butter. Cover and keep warm. 

Add a good glug of oil to a frying pan and set on a high heat. Place the onion halves cut-side down and fry for 5-6 minutes, until blackened and burnt. Turn over for an additional 5 minutes, then transfer to a side plate. When cool enough to handle, carefully separate the layers into little cups and place in a bowl. Squeeze in the lemon juice and season. Mix well and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 190⁰C.
Pour a generous glug of olive oil into a large, heavy frying pan and bring to a medium-high heat. When hot, add the sage leaves and fry for 30 seconds until crispy. Transfer to drain over a sheet of kitchen roll. Keep the pan hot for the pigeons.
Season the insides and outsides of the pigeons well with salt and pepper. Lay the sheets of prosciutto crisscrossed over the breasts, tucking some sprigs of thyme and a sage leaf underneath. Tie in place with some kitchen string. 

Add a large knob of butter to the sage pan and sear the pigeons for 1-1.5 minutes on each breast. Turn the crowns so that they are sitting upright in the pan, and use a spoon to baste well with the butter for a further minute. Transfer to an oven dish and roast for 10 minutes. Allow the cooked birds to rest for 10 minutes, then carve the breasts from the bone.
While the pigeons are resting, cook the pigeon hearts. Bring the same pan that was used to sear the pigeons back to a medium-high heat. Season the hearts, then cook for 1 minute on each side, basting well. Remove and allow to rest briefly, then slice in half.
In the same, now empty pan, add the cavolo nero leaves and a good splash of water. Wilt down quickly for a couple of minutes until tender.
Reheat the sauce and the smashed corn.
To plate up spoon a few dollops of the smashed corn onto each plate and add some of the cavolo nero. Arrange the pigeon breasts in the middle and three of the onion segments in the gaps at the sides. Top with the charred corn, heart, sage leaves and some of the prosciutto from the pigeon. Spoon some of the sauce into the onion cups and around the plate and serve.

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