Chopped Pigeon in Lettuce Leaves

For many of us who grew up in Chinatown, the big social events were banquets celebrating or commemorating weddings, birthdays, funerals and Chinese New Year. Even at funeral banquets there was much socializing and gaiety, among young and old, rather like the traditional Irish wake.

Banquets were normally huge affairs, with at least 150 people attending. The highlight was always the meal. There would be a procession of dishes (ten was the customary number) featuring expensive items such as lobster, whole fish, duck and, of course, pigeon.

I recall that the most anticipated dish was the recipe given here, consisting of finely chopped pigeon, stir-fried with an assortment of other ingredients, enclosed in an iceberg lettuce leaf (a definite American influence), with dashes of hoisin sauce. This delicacy was eaten like a taco, which made it ideal for children. It was delicious and certainly the most fun dish of the evening.

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Ingredients

  • 2 wood pigeons, about 350 g (12 oz) each
  • 225 g (8 oz) minced pork
  • 2 tablespoons Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
  • 1 tablespoon light soy sauce
  • 4 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
  • 2 teaspoons cornflour
  • 1 iceberg lettuce
  • 2 tablespoons groundnut oil
  • 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped garlic
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped spring onions
  • 115 g (4 oz) chopped celery
  • 115 g (4 oz) chopped canned bamboo shoots
  • 1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons oyster sauce
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • Hoisin sauce, for dipping

Method

Strip all the meat from the pigeons and chop it coarsely. Combine the chopped pigeon meat with the pork, 1 tablespoon of rice wine, the light soy sauce, 2 teaspoons of sesame oil and the cornflour. Mix well and let it marinate for about 20 minutes.

Separate and wash the lettuce leaves, wiping off any excess water, and set them aside.

Heat a wok or large frying pan over a high heat until it is hot. Swirl in the groundnut oil and, when it is very hot and slightly smoking, toss in the garlic, spring onions and pigeon mixture and stir-fry for 5 minutes. Then toss in the celery and bamboo shoots and continue to stir-fry for 2 minutes. Now pour in the remaining rice wine, the dark soy sauce, oyster sauce and remaining sesame oil. Continue to stir-fry 1 minute. Finally, sprinkle on the salt, sugar and pepper and stir-fry for a further 2 minutes.

Place the mixture on a platter. Arrange the lettuce leaves on a separate platter, put the hoisin sauce in a small bowl and serve at once.

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