Nathan Outlaw shares the sumptuous secret to spiced wood pigeon with figs, port and rocket
“I created this dish back in 2003 when I opened my first restaurant. It’s a great salad to make when you can get those very juicy figs, or you can use pears poached in red wine. I find wood pigeons are best eaten fresh and not hung for too long, but that’s a personal taste. Get your butcher to prepare them.”
• 4 wood pigeon crowns
• sunflower oil, for cooking
• 120g unsalted butter
• sea salt
• freshly ground black pepper
For the spice mix:
• 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
• 1 teaspoon cloves
• 3 star anise
• 1 cinnamon stick
For the port reduction:
• 500ml port
• 100g caster sugar
• 1 orange, finely grated zest and juiced
For the salad:
• 4 large figs
• 2 tablespoon white wine vinegar
• 6 tablespoon olive oil
• 2 handfuls watercress
1 Preheat your oven to 220°C. For the spice mix, toast the spices in a frying pan over a medium heat for a few minutes until fragrant. Remove and grind to a fine powder, using a pestle and mortar or a spice grinder. Set aside.
2 For the port reduction, put the port, sugar, orange zest and juice into a pan with a pinch of salt and bring to a simmer over a medium heat. Allow to simmer for about 15–20 minutes until reduced to a syrup. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.
3 To cook the pigeon crowns, heat a large ovenproof frying pan over a medium-high heat. When it is hot, add a good drizzle of oil. Season the crowns all over with salt and most of the spice mix (save some for later). Lay them in the pan on one side and cook for a minute, then turn onto the other side and cook for another minute. Finally, turn the crowns onto their backs and pop a knob of butter into each cavity.
4 Place the pan in the oven and roast the pigeon crowns for 7 minutes. Remove from the oven and leave to rest in a warm place for 10 minutes.
5 Meanwhile, prepare the salad. Quarter the figs, season with salt and pepper and place in a small oven tray. Drizzle with the wine vinegar and most of the olive oil. Pop them in the oven for 6 minutes to warm through; they will collapse slightly. Place the watercress in a bowl and season with salt and pepper.
6 Remove the breasts from the crowns and peel off the skin if you wish. Slice the breasts in half and season with some more spice mix and salt and pepper to taste.
7 Dress the watercress with a drizzle of olive oil. Spoon 1 tbsp port reduction onto each of 4 warmed plates. Remove the figs from the oven and add to the watercress. Add the pigeon and gently toss together.
8 Share the salad between the plates and finish with a sprinkle of spice mix and a drizzle of the port reduction. Serve warm.