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Roast Pigeon

M.F.K. Fisher, How To Cook a Wolf - September 11th, 2013

Excerpted from How To Cook a Wolf by M.F.K. Fisher.

I have eaten a great many pigeons here and there, and I know that the best was one I cooked in a cheap Dutch oven on a one-burner gas-plate in a miserable lodging. The wolf was at the door, and no mistake; until I filled the room with the smell of hot butter and red wine, his pungent breath seeped through the keyhole in an almost visible cloud.

Supper took about half an hour to prepare (I could have done it more quickly, but there was no reason for it), and long before I was ready to put the little brown fuming bird on my one Quimper plate, and pour out my second glass of wine, I heard a sad sigh and then the diminishing click of his claws as he retreated down the hall and out into the foggy night. I had routed him, because of the impertinent recklessness of roasting a little pigeon and savoring it intelligently and voluptuously too.

This is the way I cooked that innocent brown bird, and the way, with small variations, I have often treated other ones since then:


  • 1 pigeon
  • 1 lemon
  • 2 slices fat bacon (or 2 tablespoons butter or oil)
  • parsley
  • red wine (or cider, beer, orange juice, tomato juice, stock...), about a cupful
  • water
  • salt, pepper

Melt the fat. [If bacon is used, cook it until crisp, and then remove it until time to serve it alongside, over, or even under the little bird.] See that the bird is well plucked, and rub her thoroughly with a cut lemon and the seasoning. Push the parsley into the belly. Braise well in the hot fat.

Add the liquid, put on the lid quickly, and cook slowly for about 20 minutes, basting two or three times. If you are going to eat the bird cold, put into a covered dish so that it will not dry out. [And if hot, make a pretty slice of toast fo reach bird, butter it well (or spread it with a bit of good pâté de foies for Party!), and place the bird upon it. Swirl about one cup of dry good wine and 2 tablespoonfuls butter in the pan, for 4 birds, and spoon this over each on immediately, and serve.]

The accompaniments to this little bird (I ate it hot) were what was left of the red wine, which was a Moulin à Vent at twenty-six cents a quart, a rather dry piece of bread which was perfect for sopping all the juice from the plate, and three long satiny heads of Belgian endive. Celery hearts would have been just as good, I think, or almost as good.