WHEN the game season ends in late January, there is an odd sense of shock. Suddenly, you are deprived, as a chef, of using some of Scotland’s most wonderful ingredients. But the return of the next game season in August still far beyond the horizon, I still find a way to serve game, both on my menu and at home, thanks to wood pigeon.

Dark, succulent wood pigeon, as purple as beetroot and just as sweet and earthy, is not governed by open and closed shooting seasons, so you can turn to it throughout the year. Being inexpensive, it offers the perfect opportunity to practise your roasting and carving before moving onto more expensive products later. Placing a pre-order with your butcher might be necessary, but it is worth the planning.

Reserve the raw liver and heart for a wonderful smooth pate, to pipe onto croutons to serve with your birds. The legs can be tough, yielding little meat, so remove these first, keeping them aside for a sauce. The prime meat of the crown requires only a short burst in the oven, keeping the breast beautifully rosy and tender.

Roast wood pigeon with beetroot and pearl barley risotto

Recipes serve 4

4 oven-ready wood pigeons,

175g pearl barley

900ml vegetable stock

2 banana shallots

40g unsalted butter

150ml white wine

2 small heads of beetroot

Sea salt flakes, about 250g

1 dstsp chopped parsley

1 clove garlic and a sprig of thyme


1. Ask the butcher to remove the legs and reserve the liver and heart when the innards are drawn out. Alternatively, you can buy chicken livers or dick livers separately and make the pate, below, with them instead.

2. To prepare the beetroots: take a small ovenproof tray and lay a third of the salt in the middle as a bed. Place the rest of the salt in a bowl. Now wet the beetroot under cold running water. Roll in the salt so it sticks then set on the salt bed on the tray. Carefully spoon the salt from the bowl over the beetroots. Transfer to a pre-heated oven (180C), and bake until tender, 60-80 minutes. Test by inserting a small knife into the centre. Once cooked, remove from oven and stand until cool enough to handle. Knock the salt off the beetroots and discard. Peel the beetroots with a small knife then cut the flesh into even-sized pieces (just over 1cm). Set aside.

3. Finely dice the shallots. Heat a medium sized saucepan, add the butter and sweat the shallot in it until soft, without colouring. Stir the pearl barley into the shallots and fry for one minute. Add the wine and reduce by half then add the vegetable stock, bring to a simmer and cook, stirring regularly, until the pearl barley is tender, about 15 minutes. Through liquid absorption and evaporation, the consistency should be like risotto: moist but not soupy. Set aside for now

4. To cook the pigeons: heat a cast iron frying pan over a medium high heat for one minute. Add a thin layer of vegetable oil and heat this for one minute also. Season the crowns of wood pigeon with salt all over then lay each in the pan on their side to brown. Once this first side is browned, turn onto their other side to brown as well. Finally stand them on their fronts and backs to brown. This whole browning processshould take around 5-6 minutes.

5. Once browned all over, add the garlic and thyme to the pan with the butter. Melt the butter and spoon it over the crowns. Lay each pigeon on one side and transfer to a preheated oven (180C) for three minutes. Quickly remove the pan from the oven, and swiftly turn the pigeons onto their opposite side then return to the oven for a further three minutes. Finally remove from the oven, turn onto their backs, return for a final two minutes. Once done, remove pan from oven and spoon butter over the birds, leaving the pigeons on their backs to rest for 6-7 minutes.

6. During this time, place the beetroots on a tray, drizzle with a little olive oil and briefly warm in the oven. Heat the pearl barley and tip off excessive liquid if necessary. Add the chopped herbs to the barley. To serve, remove each of the breasts off the crown. Spoon the pearl barley in the middle of four serving dishes, scatter the beetroot around then lay two breasts per person in the middle and serve at once.

Chopped pigeon liver and heart on toast

Four pigeon livers and four pigeon hearts (or use duck liver)

Unsalted butter (for amount, see step 1), soft, at room temperature

Fresh ground black pepper

50ml ruby port

Bread for toast points

Nutmeg, to grate


1. Weigh the livers and hearts and make a mental note of the weight. Measure half of this weight in butter so you have two parts offal to one part butter. Have everything to hand before starting, as you will need to move quickly when you start.

2. Cook the toast, either under a grill or in a toaster. Cut off the crusts and cut the toast into fingers, keep warm.

3. Heat a wide frying pan for at least one minute then add a small amount of olive oil and heat for one minute. Drain the offal on absorbent kitchen paper towel so it is dry then transfer to a clean plate or bowl. Season the offal with sea salt flakes and fresh ground black pepper then add to the hot oil. Make sure they are spread out and in contact with the heat of the pan rather than in a mound on top of each other. Sear for a minute until crusty and brown then flip the livers and heart over and repeat for another minute. Add grated nutmeg then toss around the pan for 30 seconds to ensure even cooking.

4. Tip out into a clean bowl. Return pan to the heat and add the port. Bring to a boil, reduce to a syrup and add to the livers in the bowl. Stir well.

5. Carefully tip the liver mixture onto a chopping board and chop finely with a knife. Return to the bowl then beat in the butter with a spatula. Spread on the toasts and serve at once with the pigeon breasts.

Geoffrey Smeddle is the chef proprietor of The Peat Inn, by St Andrews’s , Fife Ky15 5LH 01334 840206 www.thepeatinn.co.uk