Roast Squab

Squab – really doves that have been bred for the table – have always been honoured in France and, to a lesser extent, in Italy. Our climate seems to be a bit too damp for squab, so they are mostly imported from France, where they are called pigeonneaux as opposed to palombes, wood pigeon, and are very expensive, with a 450 g /1 lb cleaned bird selling wholesale at around £5. Slightly cheaper Italian birds are starting to make an appearance.

Squab are stunning fare and very different in flavour and texture from their wild, wood pigeon cousins. Where the wood pigeon is tough and lean, the squab is plump and succulent. Birds range in dressed weight from 350 g / 12 oz to 500 g / 1 lb 2 oz and one bird makes a generous single serving.

The best way to cook squab is straightforward high-temperature roasting. The restaurant standard technique is to brown the bird in olive oil in a pan on the hob over a very high heat then put it into the oven for between 5–10 minutes, which delivers a medium-rare finish after being rested for 5 minutes. Since restaurant ovens are probably operating at 300°C/600°F and the British taste leans towards a rather less bloody dish, dispense with the initial browning.

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Ingredients

  • 4 squab
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper

For the Gravy

  • splash of white wine
  • about 5 tbsp reduced chicken stock (optional)

Method

Preheat the oven to 250°C/475°F/ gas 9. Brush the birds all over with olive oil and season well with salt and pepper.

Put them on a rack, breast side down, for 15 minutes, then turn them breast up for a further 5 minutes.

Remove from the oven and allow to rest in a warm place for 10 minutes.

Make the gravy by deglazing the pan with a splash of wine and the reduced chicken stock.

Serve the squab with the gravy and a few roast or some mashed potatoes.

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