Braised Wood Pigeon with Cider Apple Sauce and a Confit of Apples and Shallots
Wood pigeon is the most inexpensive game bird of all, so although you need about one per person, it is still excellent value and rather special – in fact, serving it with the apple and shallot confit makes it totally outstanding.
If you prefer, the confit can be made well in advance then just gently warmed before serving. It is also excellent for serving with other game birds.
To make the confit, all you do is place all of the ingredients in a small saucepan and bring everything up to a gentle simmer.
Now let it simmer as gently as possible for 45 minutes to 1 hour, stirring from time to time until all the liquid has reduced to a lovely sticky glaze. Rinse the pigeons inside under a cold running tap then wipe them as dry as possible with kitchen paper and season with salt and freshly milled black pepper.
Next, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in the casserole and, with the heat fairly high, brown the pigeons on all sides, removing them to a plate as they brown. When they are all done, wipe the casserole with kitchen paper, then add the rest of the oil, together with the butter, to it. Return it to the heat and, as soon as the butter begins to foam, add the onions and soften them for about 5 minutes over a medium heat. Now add the Bramley apples and allow them to soften and brown for a further 5 minutes. Next, pour in the cider, bring it up to a gentle simmer then return the pigeons to the casserole (breast side down in the liquid). Now pop in the bay leaf and sprigs of thyme, put a close-fitting lid on, and let everything simmer as gently as possible for an hour.
After that, turn the pigeons over and give them another 20-30 minutes before transferring them to a plate covered with foil to keep warm. Now press the contents of the casserole through a sieve, using the bowl of a ladle to get it all through, then return it to the casserole and let it bubble and reduce over a high heat to about two-thirds of its original volume. Then, keeping the heat low, stir in the crème fraîche and Calvados and taste to check the seasoning.
To serve the pigeon, place each one on its back, take a sharp knife, then run the blade down the breast bone and along the wishbone, keeping it as close to the bone as you can. Using the knife as a lever, gently pull the breast away from the frame. Trim the bits of skin off and repeat with the other side. Now cut the legs away and serve the breasts only with the sauce poured over and the confit handed round separately.