Roasting birds for the table

Squab pigeon with braised peas
Serves 2

Use the largest peas you can find, not petits pois. Because they stew, you need them to be robust and starchy. The resultant dull green colour is exactly correct here.


75g cubed pancetta (unsmoked, from Waitrose, is excellent)
15g lard
2 squab pigeons
25g butter
6 bulbous spring onions, trimmed and sliced
1 little gem lettuce, shredded
Salt and pepper
50ml dry sherry
250g frozen peas-or freshly podded, in season
The leaves of 3-4 sprigs thyme


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Pre-heat the oven to 200˚C/gas mark 6. Using a solid-based, lidded pot, quietly fry the pancetta in the butter until golden. Put the pigeons into a small roasting dish and, holding the pancetta back with a slotted spoon, drain the fat from the cooked meat all over them. Season lightly, and roast for 20 minutes, basting occasionally.

Now add the butter to the pancetta, together with the onions and lettuce. Gently cook until nice and sloppy, then pour in the sherry and allow to bubble for a moment. Tip in the peas, sprinkle in the thyme and cover. Stew for about 20 minutes.

Remove the birds from the oven, place onto a small plate and discard the fat. Leave to rest for several minutes. Lift the lid off the peas and bubble fast on a high heat until thickened to a kind of ragoût consistency. Serve with the pigeons, either whole or lifted from the carcass using a small, sharp knife.

Roast quail with liver-and-mushroom croûtes
Serves 2

I prefer putting these small birds into the oven with very little fat. Try a mist of oil from one
of those ready-filled olive-oil sprays (please don’t turn your nose up at these useful appli-cators), which nicely nudges the bird towards an instant burnish once hit by a surge of heat. Only towards the latter moments of roasting does frothing butter come into play as a baste.


4 quail
4 slices of baguette, cut diagonally
Salt and pepper
Small knob of butter
About 10 sage leaves
Squeeze of lemon juice
For the liver-mushroom
4 large chicken livers, trimmed of any green stains
Salt and pepper
25g butter
1 large shallot, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 large, dark-gilled, flat mushrooms, chopped
2tbsp Madeira or Amontillado sherry
1 heaped tablespoon chopped parsley
A little freshly grated nutmeg
2 tbsp double cream


First attend to the liver and mushrooms. Melt half the butter in a small frying pan, season and gently fry the livers for 2-3 minutes, until lightly coloured on both sides but remaining bouncy to the touch and pink within. Remove to a plate.

Add the rest of the butter to the pan and cook the shallots and garlic until softened. Tip in the mushrooms, stir together and allow all to quietly stew for 10 minutes until any moisture generated by the mushrooms has evaporated.

Now, introduce the Madeira or sherry, turn up the heat and allow to reduce to almost nothing before adding the parsley, nutmeg and cream. Briskly cook further until a thick mass. Briefly cool before tipping into a small food processor together with the livers, cut into bite-size pieces. Pulse-chop until homogenised but remaining coarse in texture. You may, of course, also chop the mixture by hand if you like.

Pre-heat the oven to 220˚C/gas mark 7. Oil the quails and season with salt and pepper. Place in a roasting tin together with the croûtes and cook for 20 minutes; keep an eye on the croûtes and remove them from the oven when golden. Cool, then thickly spread with the liver mixture Remove the quails from the oven, place over a moderate heat and add the knob of butter.

Once frothing, add the sage leaves and a squeeze of lemon juice, then baste well. Return to the oven, together with the liver-topped croûtes and cook for a further five minutes. This is delicious served with a watercress salad.

Simon Hopkinson is the founding chef and co-proprietor of Bibendum restaurant, London

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