UPDATE 4/30/13: I made this dish for Chef Andrew Zimmern on an episode of his TV show on Travel Channel “Bizarre Foods,” and Zimmern liked it so much he made his own version of it at the Austin Food & Wine Festival. Here is Andrew’s version.
Most of the doves we bring home get plucked and served whole, usually grilled. I realize not everyone wants to do this, and I hear a lot from hunters who simply breast out their birds and eat the meat in skinless halves. If you’re one of those people, this recipe is for you.
Fear not, nose-to-tail folks. While I did indeed breast out 12 doves to make this dish, it was only after I plucked them; you’ll have to wait a few days to see what I did with the rest of the doves.
Dove breasts make such a pretty shape on the plate, and each piece makes a perfect two bites. (One bite if you are ravenous.) So my first thought when I was thinking about a recipe was to make a main course salad.
Thinking a bit more, I realized that in addition to it being dove season, it also happens to be the season for preserving roasted red peppers, and for gathering pine nuts. Hmmm… the Spanish do a fair amount of dove and pigeon hunting, and they are the kings of roasted red peppers, and they’re big on pine nuts, too. Guess I’ll take this dish in a Spanish direction.
After that decision, the rest came easy. A good main course salad hinges on a combination of fresh and preserved ingredients, acid, fat, something savory, a little sweet and maybe a bit of spicy heat. This salad hits all the bases, plus its a snap to put together.
The only “hard” part about this recipe is the garlic: I used my own preserved garlic for this dish, and I urge you to make some if you can. But you can also simply roast a head of garlic and use that, too.
Roasting garlic is super easy: My friend Elise’s recipe is foolproof. Only if you do this, don’t roast for the full 35 minutes. Cook the head of garlic for only 25 minutes, so the cloves will still kinda-sorta hold their shape when you remove them.
You cook the doves using my equally foolproof poaching method: Get hot stock to a simmer, turn off the heat, drop the dove breasts in and walk away. I left these dove breasts in for 15 minutes, and while they did get a little gray on the outside, the inside was perfectly pink and tender.
Next time I’ll only leave the breasts in for 8 to 10 minutes. You can also sous vide the dove at 135°F for 30 minutes, but for that you will need a sous vide machine and a vacuum sealer.
Everything else to this salad is just arranging things on the plate. The pine nuts — I used native pine nuts from Nevada — add crunch and richness, the preserved peppers color, sweetness and a tang from the vinegar, green onions bring texture, parsley a hint of bitter, and the garlic adds soft, mellow sweetness.
You eat this by cutting the dove breast in half and piling on some of the other flavors. Each bite will be different, depending on what you combine it with.
I gotta say, this dish is a triumph. It is easy to eat, colorful, with varied textures and flavors. I can imagine eating this the evening after a hunt in Spain, with a glass of Rioja rosé or Fino sherry and lots of crusty bread. Classy, full of flavor, and — dare I say it — easy to make.
Spanish Dove Salad
- 3 cups dove stock, duck stock or beef broth
- Breast meat from 12 to 16 doves
- 1/4 cup high-quality olive oil
- 3 to 4 preserved roasted red peppers, cut into strips
- 3 green onions, sliced thin (white parts only)
- 1/3 cup pine nuts
- 12 to 16 cloves preserved garlic, or 1 head garlic, roasted 25 minutes
- Parsley, salt and black pepper to taste
- Bring the stock or broth to a simmer. Drop the dove breasts into the broth and turn off the heat. Cover the pot and let this sit for 5 to 15 minutes. The longer the dove breasts sit in the hot broth, the more cooked they will be, but they should not overcook no matter how long you keep them there. When they are cooked to your liking, remove the dove breasts and toss them with some olive oil in a bowl. (If you happen to have a sous vide machine, salt the dove breasts well, then put them in one layer in a vacuum bag with 3 tablespoons of unsalted butter or duck fat. Cook at 135°F for 30 minutes or so.)
- If you are not using preserved garlic, roast your garlic as per Elise's instructions. When the garlic is done, carefully remove the cloves. This is persnickety, but you can also just smear them out and use the roasted garlic as a sort of puree at the bottom of everyone's plate. It may look messier, but it still tastes good.
- Toast the pine nuts in a dry sauté pan over medium-high heat, tossing them frequently to toast all sides. Pay attention to them as they toast because pine nuts go from nicely toasted to burnt in seconds. When they have some pretty browned spots on them. move the pine nuts to a bowl to cool.
- To compose the salad, divvy up all the ingredients between four plates and drizzle a little of the olive oil from the dove bowl over everything. Garnish with some parsley and grind black pepper over the plates. Serve at room temperature with some Spanish sherry, a rosé or white wine or a crisp lager or pilsner beer.