Pigeon tastes like “gamey chicken” – similar to many game birds.
Game bird meat is usually described as being chicken in some form or other – gamey, richer, fattier, sweeter etc …
To do this question justice, we need to delve deeper into pigeon cuisine.
Pigeons As Food
Pigeon used to be a mainstream meat.
In fact, so much so that in the USA, one of the two major factors in the extinction of the Passenger Pigeon was that they were extensively hunted for meat.
Pigeon meat has fallen out of favour in many respects in modern times, but it is still found on restaurant menus and in countryside eateries.
You’ll often find pigeon meat in farm shops and at farmers markets.
Why Eat Pigeon?
Pigeon, like all other meats, is a protein – an essential that helps cell renewal and cell repair. It contains lots of beneficial nutrients like
- Iron – crucial for energy productions
- Phosphorous – helps with the formation of bones and teeth
- Copper – promotes a healthy metabolism
- Magnesium – essential for a strong immune system
- Niacin (vitamin B3) – every part of the body needs B3 to function properly
It is also low in sodium (salt), low in fat, and has slightly fewer calories than chicken breast. (100g chicken breast = 166 calories, 100g of pigeon breast = 142 calories).
On the negative side, pigeon meat is high in cholesterol and saturated fat so is not a good protein to choose for a low calorie or low-fat diet.
What Pigeons Do We Eat?
Although most pigeons are edible, typically only farmed pigeon and wild pigeon are eaten.
Wild pigeon is generally wood pigeon. The bird is shot, and you should check for pellets before cooking.
Wild wood pigeon is attractive to people who want to eat sustainably, locally-sourced meat.
Wild birds are at their best in late autumn after they have feasted on the fruits and seeds of the season.
Farmed pigeon is breeds known as utility breeds.
The meat is called squab and the birds are breeds known particularly for their rapid growth and fast breeding rate. Farmed pigeon is available all year round.
Does Wild Pigeon Taste Different to Farmed Pigeon?
The taste difference is quite subtle – such as in the difference between wild and farmed salmon or farm chicken and organic chicken.
Like these examples, you need to eat the two different types of pigeon meat regularly to understand the difference in taste.
You will find that the flesh of young, farmed squab is tender with a delicate flavour. Wood pigeon has a more intense flavour with a deep, complex, mineral taste.
What Parts of the Pigeon Can You Eat?
You can eat the whole bird, like with any other game bird, chicken, turkey, goose, and duck.
What to Look for When Buying Pigeon To Eat?
Pigeon meat darkens with age, so it is best to buy birds with paler flesh.
Paler flesh also means the meat can take faster cooking methods which result in better flavour and texture.
Farmed pigeon meat is more consistent in quality than its wild counterpart.
If you’re buying a whole bird, opt for one that still has the head and feet – this will help you assess the overall condition of the pigeon.
Breasts should be nice and plump with a good distribution of fat under the skin.
How to Cook Pigeon?
There are a number of different ways to cook parts of a pigeon, here are some methods:
1. Whole Roast Pigeon
Due to their size, a whole pigeon takes less time to roast than other meats. For a simple, tasty roast bird, sear (brown) it in a pan on all sides then roast in the oven. Alternatively, cover in butter then roast.
2. Pigeon Breast
This is the most commonly cooked pigeon meat.
Pigeon breast has been described as having the grain of a fine steak but thanks to the bird’s diverse diet of wild seeds, buds, acorns, berries and green crops, it has a complex woodland, earthy taste.
The best way to cook pigeon breast so that it is soft and succulent is to rapidly pan sear it for about a minute on each side.
Overcooked pigeon is not very nice to eat!
3. Pigeon Legs
The legs of any game bird can be fried, roasted or cooked sous vide (in a water bath). Many chefs would argue however that the tastiest way is to confit pigeon legs.
This is when the legs are cooked very slowly in warm fat. Duck legs are most famously prepared this way but the results for pigeon legs are equally good.
Pigeon can be cooked on the barbeque and the breasts also take well to being smoked. It can also be used in a traditional game pie.
Pigeon meat can be used in your favourite cuisines. You can find recipes for Italian, French, Indian and Chinese dishes using pigeon.
What to Eat with Pigeon
The deep strong flavour marries very well with all sorts of other flavours from warm spices like cumin and cinnamon to juicy fruits like blackberries and blueberries.
It goes exceptionally well with wild mushrooms, Jerusalem artichokes, walnuts and beetroot. Pigeon breast and lentils is a common combination.
Pastilla – The Most Famous Pigeon Dish
This dish originates from Morocco. Pastilla is generally a special occasion dish and is essentially a pigeon pie.
The pastry is very thin werqa (similar to filo pastry) and the filling is a combination of savoury and sweet flavours.
Traditional pastilla made with a layer of toasted and ground almonds, cinnamon, and sugar under the pigeon meat which has usually been shredded.
It is an enclosed pie, and the top is usually decorated with icing sugar with grill lines burned in by a hot skewer. Modern variations are made with chicken!
If you want to try this interesting and tasty dish, check out this recipe for traditional Moroccan pigeon pastilla.