Pigeons with Spiced Plums and Red Cabbage

The first dish I made without following someone else’s recipe was a pigeon casserole. I was a music student living in a damp basement flat and I bought pigeons because they were cheap. However, the dish really impressed my friends and I have enjoyed these humble birds ever since. In this casserole their full flavour goes well with both the spices and the sharp sweetness of plums. Serve with mashed potato and a green vegetable or leaf salad.


  • 2 medium onions
  • 675 g/ lb red cabbage
  • 450 g/1 lb red plums
  • 5 cm/2 in piece fresh ginger
  • 4 large cloves garlic
  • 50 g/2 oz butter, plus extra for baking
  • 2 teaspoons caraway seeds
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 4-5 cardamom pods
  • cayenne pepper
  • 2 rounded tablespoons plain flour
  • 3 teaspoons paprika
  • 4 pigeons
  • 3 tablespoons groundnut or sunflower oil
  • salt


Peel the onions and chop roughly. Discard any marked outer leaves from the red cabbage, cut out the thick stalk, then slice the leaves finely. Cut the plums in half and remove the stones. Peel the ginger and cut across into thin slices. Peel the garlic and cut each clove in half lengthways.

Now melt the butter in a large flameproof casserole over a medium heat, add the onions and cook until soft and just beginning to brown. Then stir in the ginger and garlic with the caraway seeds, cinnamon and cardamom pods, lightly crushing the cardamom pods just to open them a bit. Stir in the cabbage and plums, season with 3-5 pinches of cayenne pepper and some salt, then remove from the heat.

Preheat the oven to 170°C/325°F/gas mark 3. Put the flour and paprika into a bowl, season with salt and another few pinches of cayenne pepper and stir to mix. Coat each pigeon thoroughly with the seasoned flour.

Put the oil into a large, heavy-based frying pan over a high heat and brown the pigeons on all sides. Arrange them breast-side upwards on top of the red cabbage and plums, top each bird with a blob of butter, then cover the casserole and cook in the centre of the oven for 1½-2 hours, until the pigeons feel tender when you stick a small knife into the flesh.