It’s official: the hunting season is here again and in certain parts of the country a select few are out hunting bear and sheep and deer. The majority of us, however, are getting our first taste of the hunt with doves. I’m not a great dove hunter, although I’m not exactly to blame. During most of my lifetime, we didn’t even have a dove season in Minnesota. Fortunately, that changed some years back, and now every September 1 I get to head out in hopes of seeing a dove. I say “in hopes of” because dove numbers where I live are not great. You can find them and, on occasion, you can get a shot. But we still don’t have dove hunting in Minnesota like they do in other states.
There are places like Yuma, Arizona, where dove hunting is such a big deal that the local high schoolers hold a fundraiser in the form of a drive-thru dove cleaning station. For $5, the high school band will clean your limit of doves. And, when they are done, you can take your limit to any number of restaurants where they will cook up your birds for you. Just once in my life I would like to experience dove hunting on that level.
For now, however, I will just be happy to get out and see if I can shoot my two or three doves and hopefully get a small meal out of them. While I’m out there, I keep my eyes open for another bird: one that used to be a popular game bird, but that has caught such a bad reputation many people would never consider eating them.
Pigeons are all over the place here in farm country. They live in barns and silos and most farmers will let you come in a shoot a few. Pigeons are a little bigger than doves and equally tasty, in my opinion.
Like doves, pigeons can be prepared in a number of different ways. If you have enough pigeons, you can put together a really nice dinner. Juniper-roasted doves with a cherry port sauce is one of my favorite ways or you can make them just like doves into poppers with a little cream cheese, jalapeño, and bacon.
For these pigeons, I am tweaking a Jamie Oliver recipe for a fried pigeon with a sweet and sour dipping sauce. The pigeons are rubbed with Chinese five spice and then fried whole. It doesn’t take long to fry a whole bird, and you end up with a very tender breast and crispy salty skin. Give pigeons a try, if you haven’t yet—you might be surprised at how good they are.
2 tablespoon of kosher salt
2 teaspoons Chinese five spice
1 teaspoon black pepper
Small pinch of cayenne for heat
Combine the ingredients and rub it on the inside and outside of the pigeons. Let sit out for 30 minutes before frying. Heat oil (I used peanut oil but just about any oil would work) over medium-high heat until oil reaches 350 degrees. Lower the pigeons whole in the oil so they are completely submerged. Cook for 4-5 minutes—four if you want some pink in the middle of the breast and five if you don’t. Pull the birds out and set aside to drain and cool. While they pigeons are draining make your sauce.
Sweet and Sour Dipping Sauce
Juice of one lemon
Juice of one lime
¼ cup oyster sauce
2 tablespoons of Sriracha
1 tsp fresh grated ginger
1 clove of garlic minced
Combine all ingredients, mix well and serve with fried pigeons.