Oven-Roasted Squab with Imperial Roman Sauce

Although this recipe uses an oven, use a smoker if you have one, or a grill with a cover, especially if it has a drip pan with water in it under the rack holding the birds. In this way, the liquid keeps a moist vapor around the squab. The sauce, smoking, and boning can be done a few hours in advance, with the boned halves resting in the reduced squab broth. Be careful when reheating them not to let the broth boil or the squab will become tough and overcooked.

The sauce is from the great inspirational cookbook of the imperial Roman author Apicius, Cookery and Dining in Imperial Rome, although in the original Latin the title is more like “Current Ingredients and the Art of Cooking.” The sauce was originally to be served on hard-boiled eggs, and not even cranes’ and plovers’ eggs at that, as expected of Romans.

A plain watercress salad, the sweet corn timbale, the winter squash slices in white truffle oil, or the onions cowboy–style (heated and glazed under a medium heat broiler for ten minutes), would all be delicious with this smoky squab and its Apician sauce.

You will need some soft white string for trussing the squabs.

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Ingredients

    The Squabs

  • 4 whole fresh squabs
  • 12 sprigs fresh thyme, stemmed, leaves chopped
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 cups white veal stock or mixed veal and chicken

    The Sauce

  • 4 ounces pine nuts, lightly toasted
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh lovage leaves (or tender celery)
  • 2 tablespoons wild flower or herbal honey
  • 1 teaspoon coarsely ground fresh black pepper (like Tellicherry)
  • 2 tablespoons squab broth
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt

Method

If there are heads and feet on the squab, chop them off and keep them to include in the squab broth.

Take some string and tie up the legs of the squabs, trussing them around the backs of the birds. Put the thyme, salt, pepper, and the olive oil in a bowl and add the squab. Rub all over with the mixture. Cover loosely and leave at room temperature for 2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Put the squabs in a baking pan in the oven, cooking them for 15 minutes.

Take the birds out of the oven and set them aside to cool. When the birds are cool, slice the two halves of the birds off the carcasses, leaving the first wing bone attached to the breast. Cover the boned halves loosely.

Chop up the carcasses and put them in a saucepan large enough to hold all the bones (plus feet and heads) and the stock. Pour the stock into a pan, bring to a boil, skim off any scum that rises to the surface of the stock, and simmer for 30 minutes. Strain and degrease the sauce, reducing it and cleaning it as you go until you have cups.

While the squab broth is reducing, make the Apician sauce. Put the pine nuts into a mixing bowl, add the olive oil, and leave for 30 minutes. Then add the lovage, honey, and pepper, and crush one-third of the pine nuts with a fork. Add 2 tablespoons of the squab broth from the simmering pot, mix it in briefly, and taste the sauce for salt.

Put the squab pieces in a sauté pan large enough to hold them side by side in one layer. Heat them in the oven for 5 minutes, or until the squab is heated through.

Put the squab halves onto warm plates, spoon some sauce next to them, and pass the rest of the sauce separately.

Variations

Marinate little chickens, or even breasts of large roasters, for 5 hours in a marinade of one-third Scotch whiskey and two-thirds olive oil, with lots of fresh thyme and 2 tablespoons of crushed juniper berries, and you will get a taste of a wild game bird such as grouse. Then roast or smoke them as above and serve with the same sauce.

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