These underrated birds are very nutritious, plentiful, cheap and versatile, and are possibly the tastiest of our game birds. They're available all year round, but now is the best time to buy them since young birds are nicely plump after feeding all spring and summer at the farmers' expense. Pigeon is best cooked quickly at high heat, but since the flesh contains little fat, older, tougher birds need longer, slower cooking – resulting in drier meat.
You often find wood pigeon in supermarkets, but better value is to be had from game butchers or farmers' markets, where you can find ready-packed breast meat. Remember that all game should be checked thoroughly for lead shot before and after cooking.
1 PIGEON STOCK 1 onion, chopped; 1 carrot, diced; 1 leek, chopped; 1 stick celery, chopped; butter
Carefully cut away the breast meat, keeping the knife close to the rib cage. Roast the carcasses in a hot (230C/450F/gas mark 8) oven for about 15 minutes, until browned. In a stock pot, cook the carrot, onion, celery and leek in a little butter until just starting to brown at the edges.
Add the bones and enough cold water to cover. Bring the pan to the boil and skim off any scum that rises. Reduce the heat and cook at a slow simmer, half-covered for eight hours. Add more water as necessary to prevent the stock drying out.
Strain through a sieve into another pan and bring to the boil to reduce and concentrate the flavour. Cool and then refrigerate.
Remove any fat from the top of the stock and either refrigerated for use in a week or freeze in small quantities for addition to sauces or as a base for casseroles and pies.
2 PIGEON PATE Breast meat of 6-7 pigeons; 150g sausage meat; 150ml stock; 1 tsp mixed herbs; salt; pepper
For the marinade
150ml red wine; 1 onion, finely chopped; 2 tsp mixed herbs; 1 bay leaf; pinch ground nutmeg
Put the pigeon and the marinade ingredients in a bowl, mix well and cover. Refrigerate for a couple of days.
Put the pigeon, marinade and stock in a pan and simmer gently for an hour., then drain and mince the meat. Mix with the sausage meat, herbs, salt and pepper and enough stock to make a smooth moist mixture. Put this into a buttered ovenproof dish, cover and bake at 180C/350F/gas mark 4 for 90 minutes.
3 PIGEON AND PORK BELLY 3 tbsp puy lentils; 1 small bay leaf ; 1 small clove garlic, finely chopped; 5 baby onions; 125ml white wine; 2 tbsp olive oil; 25g unsalted butter; breast meat of 2 pigeons; 50g pork belly; 1 tsp sherry vinegar; 1 tsp clear honey; lemon juice; salt; pepper
Wash the lentils in cold water, then put in a large pan with the bay leaf, garlic, onions and wine. Barely cover with cold water, bring to a boil and simmer, uncovered, until the lentils are tender.
Heat the olive oil and half of the butter in a frying pan. Season the pigeon and sear for two minutes on each side. Takwe the pan off the heat and leave to rest, loosely covered with foil.
Cut the pork into thick strips and season. Heat a non-stick pan over a moderate heat and dry-cook the pork until golden and crisp. Pour off any fat and add the vinegar and honey. Toss the pork strips in the honey mixture.
Reheat the lentils, adding any pan juices from cooking the pigeon. Add the remaining butter to the lentils, season well and add a little lemon juice. Scatter the pork over the lentils and accompany with the sliced pigeon. Serve with wilted kale leaves.
4 PIGEON STROGANOFF Breasts of 2 pigeons, cut into long 20mm-thick strips; 1/2 tin chopped tomatoes; 1 onion, sliced; 1 red pepper, sliced; 1 tbsp paprika; 25g butter; 142ml sour cream; bunch parsley, chopped
Gently sweat the onions and pepper in the butter for two minutes, then add the paprika and cook until the onions are soft. Increase the heat and when the pan starts to sizzle add the pigeon strips and fry until all sides are sealed. Add the tomatoes a little at a time, so the pan doesn't cool too much, then add half of the soured cream a little at a time. Check the pigeon strips are cooked as well as you like, then throw in the parsley, stir and serve with rice and a dollop of sour cream on top.
5 Pigeon with haggis 1 pigeon breast; 1 strip thinly sliced smoked pancetta; 25g haggis; thyme; rosemary
Butterfly the pigeon breast from underneath, then push the haggis into the cavity and reform the breast into its original shape. Brush the pigeon with melted butter and wrap in the pancetta. Allow to chill for 30 minutes.
Cook the pigeon in foaming butter with a sprig each of thyme and rosemary for around five minutes, basting frequently. Check the haggis stuffing is hot by piercing with the point of a sharp knife. Allow to rest for five minutes, then carve into two pieces and serve on top of bashed neeps with a little game jus.
This article was first published in the Scotland on Sunday on November 1, 2009