Today, the first of a bunch of recipes “for one”. This is because recipes for one are often a bit difficult to come by, I often cook for one (i.e. me) so therefore have plenty of them to share, and if you are cooking for more people you can simply multiply the quantities. So everybody should be happy. I admit it’s difficult buying ingredients in small quantities but you can always use leftovers for something else – indeed I find this a type of “forced inspiration” that gets the creative juices flowing.
A small game bird is the perfect dish for one. It is one of the few dishes that really does live up to what I call “the celebrity chef promise”, i.e. that the dish will be cheap, quick, easy, and delicious. Normally one has to compromise on at least one of these (normally “quick”, I find) and I do sometimes wish that Jamie and Gordon and Nigella would just admit this and be done with it. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. All good things require effort, and food is no different. Down with instant gratification.
But occasionally you really do come across something that ticks all the boxes. Literally all you have to do with a small game bird (pigeon, grouse, pheasant, woodcock etc) is shove it in a hot oven for about 20 minutes and then eat it with whatever you want. For the supremely lazy this could involve simply a bag of watercress (for my Australian readers, salad in the UK almost only comes in bags, would you believe), some mustard, and the contents of a bag of crisps that you have warmed for about 5 minutes in the oven. (These are called “game chips”. Did you know that? Take something as common as crisps and warm them up and they become posh. That would have to be the quickest brow-shift I’ve ever seen). I doubt even Nigella Lawson could come up with something quite as half-hearted in its demands of the home cook. And cheap too. My butcher, Marek at Theobald’s, is selling pigeon at £1.80 per bird at the moment so you could easily have a meal for one for around £3 with minimal effort.
But as I alluded to earlier, I’m not really into minimal effort. A meal is not really worth eating unless someone, somewhere has slaved over it, so I’m going to suggest a slightly more elaborate preparation that comes with corresponding rewards.
60g Puy Lentils
1 banana shallot
1-2tbsp chopped parsley (or to taste). For the rest of your bunch of parsley, stand it up in a coffee mug with some water in the bottom and refrigerate with a small plastic bag over the top (you can use the bag it came in, if it came in one). It will keep for ages.
30g pancetta. Don’t buy those dreadful supermarket thin rashers. Go to the deli counter (or a proper deli, or make your own) and ask for a thick slice of pancetta about 1-2cm thick so that you can cut it into lardons. The single slice I bought today was about 60g. You could use the whole lot if you like, otherwise just add the rest to an omelette or a pasta sauce.
Up to 500mL chicken or vegetable stock
Salt and pepper.
½ tsp Dijon mustard
1tsp white wine vinegar.
- Preheat the oven to 200C
- Bring about 200mL of the stock to the boil and add the lentils. Simmer for 20 minutes or until done (they should not taste “hard” but should still hold their shape and have a bit of bite to them). Because you are dealing with such a small quantity of lentils it is possible for them to boil dry so keep extra stock to hand and top up ensuring the lentils are always just covered with liquid. You could also just use boiling water instead. Drain.
- Dice the shallot finely. Heat about 2tsp of olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat and fry gently until they have softened and become translucent (5-10 minutes). Set aside. Cut the pancetta into lardons – i.e. little chunks. Brown well in a hot pan. Set aside.
- Make the dressing. In a large bowl whisk the mustard with the vinegar to form a smooth paste. Gradually drizzle in about 3-4tsp of olive oil, whisking constantly and vigorously until you have a smooth dressing of “pourable” consistency. Taste along the way so that you can ensure the dressing has the degree of piquancy that matches your taste. What you should aim for is something with enough acidity such that it tastes slightly too acidic on its own – when combined with other ingredients it will balance out. Season to taste.
- Finger the pigeon and remove any internal organs that may have been left in. Rub olive oil over the exterior. Season with salt and pepper. Roast for 15-20 minutes depending on the size. Rest the bird for 5-10 minutes in a warm place while you finish off the lentils. (I have a metal platter that I warm in the oven, and also cover the bird in foil). This is for medium-rare. If you don’t want pigeon medium-rare or rarer, don’t eat it at all.
- If you have prepared the lentils in advance, warm them up again. Finely chop the parsley. To the warm lentils add half the dressing, the shallot, pancetta and the parsley.
- To serve, spoon the lentils onto a warm plate (if you want to be cheffy about it you can put a PVC or metal ring in the centre of the plate that will ensure you get a round, even pile). Place the pigeon on top. (Again, if you want to be cheffy, you can take the pigeon off the bone by carving with a very sharp knife down each side of the breast bone, following the rib cage with the tip of the knife. This looks neat but can be fiddly and I can’t see why you would bother if you were just cooking for yourself. You can’t get all the meat off the bone and half the fun is picking away at the carcass). Drizzle the remaining dressing on top of and around the pigeon. A green salad on the side makes a lovely accompaniment.
Wine suggestion: If you’re going to eat a fine meal of game at home alone, then you might as well also adopt the Krabappel Ratio (“soup for one, salad for one, wine for three”). Sure, the wine will cost much more than the meal but why shouldn’t it? You’re at home eating pigeon alone in front of The Apprentice. You probably don’t have babies or a social life so what else are you spending your money on? (Any resemblance to my own life is purely coincidental).
Anyway, recall I recently said that rule number one of food and wine matching is that you should try to match the weight of the wine with the weight of the dish. This is a lightish dish, as they come, it’s just a bird with lentil salad and herbs, although pigeon is quite red and the pancetta and lentils fill the dish out a bit. So I would be looking at a medium bodied red wine to go with this dish. But importantly, the wine must be high in acid. This is because the sauce (basically a vinaigrette) is high in acid and the second rule of food and wine matching is that the acidity of the wine must be higher than the acidity of the food – otherwise the wine will taste thin and acidic and I simply cannot think of anything worse in the history of the world than drinking wine with insufficient acidity. You could certainly have a red Burgundy or other pinot noir, but I suggest a Barbera to go with this dish. Barbera is a grape grown in the Piedmont region in Italy and has many strings to its bow – it’s medium bodied and fruity, it has vigorous acidity, low tannins, is good value, and of reliably good quality. “Barbera d’Alba” and “Barbera d’Asti” are the two most likely things you’ll see on the label. For my part, I chose the 2007 La Luna e i Falò Barbera d’Asti Superiore, £12 from Bin Ends, WC1. But Barbera is a pretty consistently styled wine so you could equally choose something like the 2007 Ceppi Stoici Barbera d’Asti, £7.38 from the Sampler, N1, or the 2006 Pio Cesare Barbera d’Alba, £14 from Planet of the Grapes, WC2.
Don’t forget to use the carcass to for a stock. One pigeon carcass won’t get you very far but just stick it in the freezer and add to it over time with other game and poultry trimmings and in a couple of months you will have enough to make a decent amount of stock.