Friends in other parts of the world have been complaining about the cold weather and have little sympathy for me when I bemoan the fact that I haven't been able to wear my cosy winter clothes yet. Cooler temperatures are on the way, though, which means we can start cooking more rib-sticking fare. This dish of braised pigeons takes a bit of effort but it's hearty and delicious.
Braised pigeons with home-made sausage stuffing, red cabbage and caramelised pears
For the sausage stuffing, buy a fatty piece of pork belly and have the vendor remove the skin. Then ask him to mince the meat and fat using the medium grinding plate. Pre-ground meat is usually too fine.
6 pigeons, about 375 grams each
150ml pigeon stock, made from the pigeon trimmings
800 grams red cabbage
200 grams shallots, peeled
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 ripe but firm pears
Parsley, for the garnish
For the sausage stuffing:
600 grams pork belly, skin removed, the meat and fat minced to medium coarseness
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 tsp fennel seeds, lightly toasted
5 grams fine sea salt
½ tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp granulated sugar
¼ tsp chilli powder
150 grams roasted chestnuts, peeled
6 thin slices of pancetta
Cooking oil, as needed
Make the sausage stuffing first. Thoroughly combine the minced pork with the garlic, fennel seeds, five grams of salt, pepper, sugar and chilli powder. Shape a small amount of the mixture into a meatball and pan-fry it in a lightly oiled skillet, then taste to see if there's a sufficient amount of seasonings; and adjust if needed. Remove the shell and papery skin from the chestnuts (this is easiest to do when they're hot; microwave them for about 30 seconds, or as needed). Chop the chestnuts into small pieces and mix them with the other ingredients. Refrigerate the stuffing while preparing the pigeons.
Cut off the head and neck of the pigeon as close as possible to the body. Cut off the feet, wing tip and middle joint of the wings. Sprinkle salt lightly over the body, but not into the cavity. Simmer the neck, feet and wing parts in 250ml of water for 30 minutes
Take 60 grams of the sausage mixture and shape it into an ovoid that will fit into the cavity of the pigeon. Wrap the ovoid in an overlapping slice of pancetta. Make six of these in total. Shape the remaining sausage mixture into meatballs about 1.5cm in diameter, place them on a plate and refrigerate them. Heat a large pan that will fit six pigeons and the cabbage (or use two pans) over a medium-high flame and rub it very lightly with cooking oil. When the pan is hot, brown the pancetta-wrapped ovoids, turning them over as needed until they're completely cooked. As soon as they're done, stuff them in the cavities of the pigeons. In the same pan(s), brown the pigeons in the fat that rendered out of the sausage meat and pancetta; if there isn't a sufficient amount of fat, add cooking oil. When the pigeons are nicely browned, turn them so they're breast-side down in the pan. Add the pigeon stock (if using two pans, pour half the stock into each one; you may need to add more liquid). Bring the stock to the boil then lower the heat, cover the pan with a lid and cook at a low simmer for about 30 minutes.
While the pigeons are cooking, prepare the other ingredients. Lightly oil a skillet and place it over a medium-high flame. When the skillet is hot, brown the meatballs until they're almost fully cooked then put them on a plate. Pour off most of the sausage fat from the skillet, leaving behind about 15ml. Slice the cabbage about 5mm thick then add half of it and half the peeled shallots to the skillet the meatballs were cooked in. Sprinkle salt over the vegetables and cook just long enough to soften the cabbage slightly, stirring often, then put it into a bowl. Cook the remaining cabbage and shallots the same way, adding more sausage fat (or cooking oil) as needed to the pan.
Peel the pears and cut them in half. Remove the core, then cut each half lengthwise into four wedges. Heat oil in a skillet set over a medium-high flame. Dredge the pear wedges in sugar to coat them entirely, then cook them in the hot skillet. The sugar will caramelise and give off a lot of smoke (turn on the extractor fan). Turn the pear wedges over as needed, so they're evenly caramelised, then put them on a plate.
After the pigeons have cooked for 30 minutes, remove the lid from the pan. Taste the sauce and add salt (if needed) and pepper. Put the cabbage and shallots in the pan, moving the pigeons so they're nestled on top of the vegetables. Add the meatballs and, if the ingredients seem dry, stir in more pigeon stock. Cover the pan and continue to cook at a low simmer until the pigeons are done (about 15 more minutes).
Divide the cabbage, shallots and meatballs between six dinner plates and place the pigeons on top. Add four pear wedges to each plate then garnish with parsley. Serve immediately.
For more recipes, go to scmp.com/topics/recipes