Appetite City: Pigeon with Green Peas

Appetite City: Green Markets.  I come in at about 11 minutes.

Take the time to watch this full episode on New York’s Green Markets; it’s lovely.  There’s an interview with Jeffrey of “Jeffrey’s Meat” that is just gold.  His butcher shop, on the Lower East Side since 1940, is an emblem of the neighborhood.  Sadly, it closed just weeks after this interview was completed.  As Jeffrey says, “Food is an example of the History of a Neighborhood.”

The second half talks about the rise of New York’s greemarkets–and the real hell New York was in the middle of the 20th century.  It’s fascinating.

This episode’s recipe, for “Pigeon with Peas,” is a gud’un.  It comes from the earliest Delmonico’s menu known, from 1838.  Delmonico’s is one of the (the?) oldest surviving restaurants in the country and for most of the 19th century, was the voice on high-fashion French cuisine in America.  It started from slightly humbler roots, but you’ll see how extensive even this early menu was (Click images to enlarge).







The recipe for pigeon with peas comes from The Epicurian, the Delmonico’s cookbook published in 1893 ; but I suspect the recipe changed very little since the original menu.  The recipe speaks of a much simple mode of cooking: one pan is used in a style that has more in common with early hearth cooking, than the complicated, multi-stepped, high-French Delmonico’s was known for in the second half of the 19th century.  I really do think this was an old-fashioned Delomonico’s staple that survived the test of time.

And it’s no surprise that this recipe continued to be cooked in Delmonico’s kitchen; since making this recipe for Appetite City, I have cooked it several times since for the pleasure of it, including once over a hearth.  These are the most kick-ass peas you will ever taste.  Ever.

A squab, by the way, is a young pigeon, killed before it has begun to fly.  They have a distinctly dark and gamey flavor, complemented well by bacon.  But please don’t go picking up pigeons off the street; as Bill says “It’s at the city’s market that you can put together the ingredients for the kind of simple and elegant dish like squab and green peas.”  And if you don’t dig squab, quail or Cornish hens are an easy replacement.


Pigeons with Green Peas
From The Epicurean, published 1893.
3 squabs
⅛ lb bacon, chopped into ½ inch squares
15 pearl onions
3 pints green peas
½ bunch parsley
1 cup stock
kneaded butter: 2 tb butter kneaded with 2 tb flour 

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Wash squabs and pat dry.  Pull organs out of cavity returning the liver.  Truss (watch the video for a demo).

2. Add bacon to a large cast iron skillet with cover or a dutch oven.  Fry until crispy, then remove bacon, leaving fat behind.
3. Put pigeons in skillet with onions; brown slowly on all sides.  Add peas, parsley, and bacon; cook for 2 minutes, then add a cup of stock.  Cover and bring to a boil, boil five minutes, then reduce heat
4. Put in a 350 degree oven for 15 minutes or longer if necessary. The squab is done when its juices run clear.  Remove from oven and arrange pigeons on a platter.  Untruss.
5. Thicken peas and juices with kneaded butter and place around the pigeons.


Menus: A Cratchit Christmas

The holidays have come and gone, but file this away for next year: a Christmas dinner based off of Dickens’s classic, a Christmas Carol.  The following menu has been pulled from the description of Bob Crachit’s feast on Christmas Eve — not a sad, meager meal, as it is often portrayed in film interpretations of the story.  But rather a proud day, when the family pooled their modest resources to create a filling feast and a happy occasion.  Read the excerpt from the original story here.

The menu items are linked to the historic or contemporary recipes.

Roast Goose with Sage and Onions
Mashed Potatoes
Apple Sauce
Christmas Plum Pudding in Blazing Brandy

Cock-tail; Gin Sling; Hot Spiced Rum; Charles Dickens Punch

This was the first time I had ever roasted a goose and I was a little disappointed.  Water birds have immense chest cavities, so what appears to be a large bird actually does not has a lot of meat.  A ten pound goose produced a tiny pile of meat; although what few bites I had tasted good.  Knowing that, it’s not a surprise that Scrooge buys the family a big, meaty turkey at the end of the book.

I wasn’t sure how the plum pudding was going to light on fire, but after some discussion, we doused the hot dessert in warm brandy and held a lighter to it, and it was soon engulfed in flame.  It was a very impressive end to the meal.

We also played a rousing game of Snapdragon, which involves plucking raisins out of a pan of burning brandy.  It’s a lot less dangerous that it sounds.

Flavoring as a Cause of Death

(Illustration: Zachariah Durr; Photo: The Daily Telegraph)

I’ve long been fascinated with a tiny, European bird called the Ortolan. One of the many interesting things about the preparation and ingestion of this bird is the manner is which it is killed: it is drowned in brandy. As the liquor fills the bird’s lungs, it flavors the bird in preparation for roasting.
That’s intense. Flavoring an animal before it’s even deceased? This video pretty much covers it all, from preparation to the peculiar way in which the bird is devoured whole. Be warned: it’s a bit gruesome.
An argument could be made that in current society we take certain steps to flavor our animals before we slaughter them. With beef, for instance, cattle are bred, genetically modified, and are fed different diets to produce an ideal flavor and fattiness to the meat. But only in historic cuisine, like with the Ortolan, have I found a reference to seasoning an animal before it’s slaughtered. I also came across this recipe for turkey in Statesman’s Dishes and How to Cook Them by Mrs. Stephen J. Field, 1890. She says:

“Three days before it’s slaughtered, it should have an English walnut forced down its throat three times a day, and a glass of sherry once a day. The meat will be deliciously tender, and have a fine nutty flavor.”

All of this boozing of poultry strikes one as a little obscene. I can only imagine that cuisine has moved away from ‘pre-seasoning’ because it could be perceived as an act of animal cruelty. But perhaps that shows a bit of our naivete, and how far removed we’ve become from our food in the last 100 years. In 1890, people were hanging out with their turkeys before Thanksgiving. I bet that careful care from life to death gave the turkey a spectacular flavor that is a world apart from our freezed meats; not to mention the sense of pride the owner would have, roasting the bird and placing it on the holiday table.

After all, it’s just food. Right?

And on that note, I encourage you to take the time to listen to this episode of This American Life. It’s a Thanksgiving show from a few years ago, and it deals with the sticky subject of where to draw the line “between friend and food.” It includes a segment on our friend, the Ortolan.

This American Life: Poultry Slam