pigeon breasts with chicory and nuts

is it wrong to start thinking about your dinner at half past seven in the morning?

before you say it, it’s got nothing to do with this blog. i just do, and always have done. sometimes, when i go to bed at night and do an inventory of things to look forward to in my head, i will have a little daydream about breakfast or lunch the following day. i think i started doing it as a teenager – not the food bit but more generally, especially if there was something horrible to do in-between, like a trip to the dentist.

i knew what the main ingredient for this dinner would be and i’d been excited about it all day. i took some pigeon breasts out of the freezer last night – more out of necessity than a burning desire to eat pigeon: we’re having a party on friday and there is no room in the freezer to put even a bread roll (sideways), let alone anything else. so something had to go and pigeon looked the most tasty.

i also defrosted some soup - the last of this winter’s batch of orangey stuff – could be anything from pumpkin, squash, carrot, sweet potato or any combination of the above. i never write labels on anything i put in the freezer, which is a bit stupid. after a while, all the bags and containers begin to look the same and you need a forensic scientist to tell you what’s what. this is in great contrast to my mum, who labelled everything – not in an anal way, just making a brief note about the contents. there was all sorts of stuff in that freezer in sarajevo – bits of pigs and piglets bought directly from farmers and hauled into the little kitchen up five flights of stairs, roast red peppers smothered in oil and garlic, wild strawberries and myrtilles collected in the mountains and frozen at the end of hot summer days when your hair smelt of fresh air and your jeans had grassy knees, blanched and chopped spinach...she once left some lunch out for me and a friend who came to study physics before a school competition (i know, i know – me and physics, it can’t be right but i didn't do too badly then despite feeling like a fraud) – it was a container of cheese and spinach pie, which she froze with a note that simply said: “pie: excellent”.

anyway, the soup was taking up a lot of room but it was also there to prop up the pigeon, as pigeon breasts normally mean a light meal. lovely – but light. it’s more of a weekend lunch thing in N1 kitchen, hot on the heels of a breakfast containing at least a couple of eggs each and a juicy smoked fish from steve hatt’s.

so first thing this morning, while looking at another recipe in valentine warner’s what to eat now book, i came across this recipe for pigeon. (remember him? slightly weird, gangly bloke that looked a bit chimpish, baring his gums every time he laughed?)

pickled walnut? tick. chicory? tick. sherry vinegar? tick. salad leaves? tick. dijon mustard? tick. it was just meant to be.

for two

6 pigeon breasts
large head of chicory
1 1/2 tbs sherry vinegar
thin slice of butter (1/2 tbs or use olive oil)
50g hazelnuts, crushed
2 pickled walnuts, sliced finely
handful of salad leaves
olive oil

first, make the dressing. whisk a tablespoon each of olive oil and sherry vinegar with a teaspoon of dijon mustard.

next, do the chicory. preheat the oven to 250C (yes, as high as it will go). cut the chicory in half lengthwise, then cut each half again. don't trim the base or leaves won't stay together. put into a dish where it will fit snugly, sprinkle with about half a tablespoon of sherry vinegar, dot with a little bit of butter (or olive oil but it won't taste as nice) and season. after 15 minutes, turn the chicory pieces over and roast for another few minutes. you want it to be sort of caramelised but also cooked through. for those last few minutes, you should also roast the hazelnuts - just put them in the oven with the chicory (in a separate pan). watch that they don't burn - it happens very quickly.

for the pigeon, heat olive oil in a frying pan. season the breasts with salt and pepper, then fry on high heat for 2 minutes on each side. rest for a minute while you assemble the salad. they should still be rare in the middle and will ooze a bit of bloody juice while resting. don't overcook them whatever you do - they end up incredibly tough.

put the some salad leaves in a bowl - not too many, you don't want to drown out the better stuff, add the pickled walnuts, the nuts and the chicory. pour in the dressing and mix with your hands. place the sliced pigeon breasts on top.


  1. Ugh. This would be better without the pigeon, surely? Pigeon's taste like liver. Substitute duck?

  2. duck is an inspired substitution (and one that didn't cross my mind). and chicken, i guess. but what's wrong with pigeon?? pigeon's good. though i did spit out a lead thing with which it was shot while eating leftovers at work, which was quite funny.


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