Though the majority of Wild Game is only available from October through to the end of January, Wood Pigeon is accessible throughout the year and feeds our appetite for sustainable and locally sourced meat.
Here, we delve into the delights of eating Wood Pigeon, where you can source it from and our favourite recipes, where we hope to inspire you to eat more of this plentiful meat.
Pigeons are considered a pest here in the UK given the damage they cause to farmer’s crops, and therefore it’s necessary that their population is controlled, reducing the harm on our natural environment. They forage from natural resources and it’s this natural diet that gives game meat its unique and delicious flavour. This makes the consumption of Pigeon, as well as other Wild Game, super sustainable.
Despite its name, the Wood Pigeon has adapted to most environments across the country, eating a variety of foods – mainly crops, seeds and berries. They do gorge a little more on acorns and wild fruits throughout the autumn, so are more plump (aren’t we all) and flavoursome within this time.
Wood Pigeon is distinctly different from that of its cousin, the Feral Pigeon, often seen in towns and city centres. Wood Pigeons are larger, and distinguished by the broad white bars on their wings.
We work closely with local farmers, hunters and stalkers, to ensure we know when and where our meat has been shot, and when it comes to Game – how long it has been hung for. The connection from field to fork is one of our most important values here at The Salt Box. Most Pigeons are shot using the decoy method – luring the flock by using decoys to encourage the birds into landing and within range of the hidden hunter for a humane shot.
The bird’s dark meat has a low fat content and is typically very tender and lean with a delicate flavour. In terms of nutritional benefits, wood pigeons are a great source of protein, as well as containing an abundance of iron, phosphorus and vitamin B12. Most butchers will have the bird oven ready, but if you’re preparing the meat yourself, be careful to remove any potential tiny lead pellets, or you may find yourself taking a trip to the dentist or fishing them out of the toilet bowl! This is worth keeping in mind when you purchase any wild game even from the butcher, to check for shot.
For those who are new to Wild Game, you may be pleased to hear you don’t need to be a master chef to enjoy this delicious meat.
Pigeons are relatively small in size, so primarily what’s used is the breast. One breast per person makes a generous starter while a whole bird is suitable for a main course. Rapidly seared (a minute each side) and then rested – a succulent boned breast has the fine grain of a prime steak, but thanks to the diversity of its wild diet (seeds, acorns, buds, berries, green crops) it has a distinctly earthy, wild taste.
As for the legs, cooked for 2-3 hours at a low temperature, under a layer of olive oil or perhaps duck fat, they make a deeply flavoursome confit that falls obligingly off the bone. The boned carcass, of course, makes fantastic stock. The meat has a rich store of beneficial minerals, in particular iron, which is crucial for energy production and a robust immune system.
Wild game contains significantly more iron than any meat available in your supermarket. Symptoms of iron deficiency include fatigue and feeling faint or breathless, and reports suggest up to 4 million people in the UK are affected. Wood pigeon is another beef-beating source of iron, delivering a quarter of the recommended daily allowance, while beef provides just a fifth.
Wild birds possess a deep, strong flavour that can take on a variety of bold flavours from spice mixes to rich berry fruits. Autumnal flavours pair well with pigeons generally – think nuts and root vegetables. Pigeon also works well in pies – not only is it a relatively cheap meat but it has a richer flavour compared with other poultry such as chicken.
Below, you’ll find a handful of our local recommendations:
There are also a select number of reputable British companies you can source sustainable game from online:
Here’s our favourite Pigeon Saltimbocca recipe, a signature dish on our Introduction to Cooking Over Fire Courses, and some of our favourites we thoroughly recommend.
If you’re keen to learn more about wild game, we host a range of butchery and cookery courses celebrating all things feathered and furred. Throughout the season, join us on our Wild Venison Butchery Course or our Feather and Fur Wild Game Butchery and Cookery Course, here in our Woodland Kitchen.
Small Game Feather & Fur Butchery & Cookery
There are also an abundance of fantastic books about Wild Game that we’d recommend, which you can explore here.