Woodpigeon Pastrami with Fresh Radishes and Watercress on Sour Dough Bread
It was 5am on a Saturday morning, I was still sleepy and definitely not feeling like getting out of bed to wait for two birds to arrive, but I had to. The professionals that they are Direct Meats from near Colchester, kindly agreed to deliver a few woodpigeons for me to play with.
After paying the friendly delivery driver and placing my birds in the fridge, it was back to bed for a while. Well so I hoped but my brain started to work overtime as I considered what I could do with these plump seasonal birds. I must have gone back to sleep because when I woke up I realised I had been dreaming about WD50 and eating pastrami on our visit to New York.
Our New York gourmet extravaganza was pretty good and it’s a trip neither of us will forget. We tried everything from upmarket restaurants such as WD50 all the way to Carnegie Deli with their giant pastrami sandwiches. Eating was the order of the day and so were the various pastrami techniques. Wylie Dufresne served us a duck pastrami dish and it obviously made an impression on me as I was dreaming about making a Woodpigeon Pastrami. Thanks to Wylie for the inspiration even though it came two years later. Shakespeare said wonders never cease, well there is definitely truth in that!
Making pastrami is a tried and tested old technique. There is nothing new or inventive in the method but I have taken the idea and applied it by using my modern equipment and voila! we have a pretty good looking tasty dish. It’s a time consuming process, first you must cure the meat in a spice blend for eight hours then it requires smoking and finally the woodpigeon pastrami is ready to serve.
Woodpigeons might be annoying this time of the year in the garden and freshly sown fields but they eat incredibly well with their rich, dark meat. It’s great to see that they are more regularly available and being sold at most farmers markets and quality butchers. Woodpigeon requires very little cooking and is well paired with other earthy flavours such as the curing spices of juniper berries, coriander seeds and pink peppercorns.
For me the perfect sandwich consists of good quality fresh bread, tasty meat and somthing crisp, fresh and complimentiary. The watercress is the perfect leafy accompaniment to cut through the rich dark pigeon meat, along with the fresh crisp radishes, another seasonal best.
For the pigeon pastrami
- 1tbs coriander seeds
- ½tsp black peppercorns
- ½tsp white peppercorns
- ½tsp juniper berries
- 25g coarse sea salt
- 25g dark muscavado sugar
- 1 clove of garlic
- 1tsp thyme leaves
- 2 whole woodpigeons
For the smoking
- 1tbs pink peppercorns
- 200g rice
- 2 large sprigs of thyme
- 1tbs juniper berries
First cure the pigeon breast and legs. To do this make a curing spice mix by grinding together the curing spices, salt, garlic, thyme and sugar. Remove the pigeon breast and legs from the carcass. Rub the curing spice mix into the breast and legs. Vacuum-pack the breast and legs with the spice mix and leave to cure for eight hours.
Wash the cured pigeon legs and breast and pat dry using kitchen paper. Crush the pink peppercorns and cover the pigeon breast and legs.
Once you are ready to smoke the pigeon, make a smoker using a deep oven tray, metal cooling rack and tin foil. Line the baking tray with a layer of the foil, spread the dry rice, sprigs of thyme and juniper berries and position the cooling rack over the rice mixture. Place the pigeon breast and legs skin-side down on to the cooling rack. Place the tray over heat and start the smoking process. Cover the rack with foil and, once the rice starts to smoke, turn the heat off and leave the pigeon breast to smoke for six minutes and the legs for 12 minutes.
For the pickled red cabbage
- 700g finely sliced red cabbage
- 1 cinnamon stick
- Pinch of crushed dried chilies
- 6 cloves
- 6 whole juniper berries
- 2 in number black peppercorns
- ½ tsp coarse sea salt
- 1 clove of garlic
- 50ml balsamic vinegar
- 50ml malt vinegar
Using a pestle and mortar, finely grind the spices for the pickled cabbage, add the salt and garlic and grind until a smooth paste.
Transfer the finely sliced cabbage, ground spices and both vinegars to a bag, vacuum-pack tightly and refrigerate for 12 hours.
The cabbage pickle is now ready to be used.
- 4 slices of sourdough bread
- 200g drained pickled red cabbage
- 4 cornichons, sliced
- 4 caper berries, cut in half
- Smoked woodpigeon breasts
- Smoked woodpigeon legs
- 4 breakfast radishes, finely sliced
- Fresh watercress
- Mustard cress
Smoke the pigeon pastrami breast and legs. Drain the pickled cabbage. Toast the sourdough bread in a griddle pan.
Place the warm toasted bread on a serving plate, spoon on 50g of the pickled cabbage, slice the smoked pigeon breast and set out on top.
Complete with an arrangement of the sliced cornichons, radishes, watercress and mustard cress. Skewer one pigeon's leg with two halves of caper berries and serve it on the same plate.