Squab – The Delectable Bird
I have noticed that one of the most common superlatives used to describe the taste of a squab is “delectable”. Webster defines the meaning as highly pleasing, delightful, and delicious, and others add luscious, extremely pleasing to the sense of taste, and capable of causing desire.
Having now eaten a few, I must concur, and quite vigorously, at that.
My adventures in the world of pigeons and squabs came after reading “Raising Small Meat Animals” by Victor M. Giammattei. His chapter named “Raising Delectable Squabs” caught my eye, and I quote from the first paragraph.
It reads: “Curiously, few people today are familiar with squabs, even fewer have eaten them, and fewer yet have raised them. There’s no logic in this, for squabs are easy to raise, and their meat is the finest of all poultry meats”.
O.K., you have my attention, sir! I was one of the uninitiated, for at that time I had never eaten a squab either nor seen it offered.
He went on. “Squab ranks along with filet mignon, lobster, or suckling kid (young goat). It is found only on the menus of better restaurants and hotels, on steamships, in country clubs, and in some hospitals. It has been a dinner entrée for kings, queens, and other nobility since the time of the ancient greeks…Considering the ease with which they can be raised, the quality of their meat, and the modest cost to the backyard grower, there is no reason why the energetic family should be without squab meat – in the author’s opinion, the choicest of all meats”.
No reason, I asked? Could it really be that good, and how by the way had I managed to miss this enticing taste sensation? Sign me up, says I.
If this were not enough to convince me about the quality of squab, I have since found other interesting references. Philippa Scott, from her “Gourmet Game”, lists a recipe for “Trid”, or Moroccan Pancakes Stuffed With Pigeon. She writes: “In his “Moorish Recipes”, John, fourth Marquis of Bute, suggests that this dish might well have been introduced into Morocco in the time of Mulai Idris, descendent of the Prophet Mohammed, who fled to Morocco from Mecca, and whose body lies buried at Fez, the land of his exile. It is reputed to be the oldest Arab dish, and it is said that when the Prophet Mohammed was asked what he liked best in the world, he answered that he loved his wife above everything, but after her he loved “Trid”.
The chinese have raised squab for over 2000 years. Today squab farms are big business in china, with several hundred being operated with government approval and encouragement. They are also big medicine. The chinese believe that squab is not only delicious and easily digestible, but that the meat and broth can be used to treat a variety of health ailments. The ancient people used to call pigeons “the sweet blooded animal”, and can be used to cure anemia, weakness, and fatigue. It can be used to prevent high blood pressure, vascular sclerosis, and osteoporosis, just to name a few. Pigeon was the first kind of poultry to be designated as “green food” from the China Green Food Development Center, which means pigeon is the most clean and unsullied meat product to consume.
On the american scene, the use of squab may be a result of the people’s memory and fondness for the tenderness and taste of the passenger pigeon, and we know what happened to that miraculous horde. They ate them. Thomas Jefferson and the history of the United States are forever intertwined. Among many other things, Jefferson was a “foodie”, should there have been a such a term around in those days. He loved his land, his crops, and his meals provided from them. He was famous for his dinner parties and for his dinner guests. Squab was on the menu, raised from his own lofts. “Squab in Compote”, a french recipe, was one of his favorite dishes.
William Randolph Hearst, in his day, was one of the richest and most powerful men in america. Like Jefferson, he was also famous for his dinner parties and the extensive menus. The estate was well-known for its squab loft’s and squab dinners, served to other american royalty and celebrities lucky enough to be included on the guest list. If they were very fortunate, “Hearst Ranch Squab” a roasted, stuffed bird, would be on the table.
So folks, try a squab today. If it’s good enough for a prophet, an american founding father, and one of the world’s richest men, it’s good enough for me. After all, 1.4 billion Chinese, with a “B”, cannot be wrong.
By the way, did I mention that you can raise them in a small backyard? You don’t have to be born of royal blood lines either, but you can dine like you do. They are, a most “delectable” bird.
Trid: Moroccan Pancakes Stuffed With Pigeon
1 1/2 pound pigeon meat, cut into about 20 pieces. Salt, 1 teaspoon black pepper, good pinch of saffron, 1 teaspoon ground ginger, 1 stick cinnamon, 1 tablespoon chopped chervil,1 tablespoon chopped parsley, 3 large onions (chopped), 1/2 cup water, 1 cup olive oil, 3 heaping cups flour.
Simmer the meat, salt and pepper, spices and herbs, onions, water, and 1/2 cup olive oil in a heavy casserole with a tight-fitting lid. Make a simple dough with the flour and very little water. Work it thoroughly, then make it into about 20 balls about the size of small hen’s eggs. Flatten each on a lightly oiled board into a very thin disc. Cook each on a dry griddle, not too hot but cooked on each side.
Arrange 1/2 of these cooked pancakes in a oven proof dish, overlapping each other and coming up the sides of the dish. When the meat is tender, remove the cinnamon stick, and arrange the meat on top of the pancakes. Cover with the remaining pancakes. Pour a little of the cooking liquid over the trid, and serve the rest as a sauce.
From Gourmet Game: Recipes and Anecdotes From Around The World by Philippa Scott.
Squab in Compote
6 plump squabs, 2 tablespoons butter, i cup finely chopped onion, 1 finely diced carrot, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 2 slices diced bacon, 1/4 pound sliced mushrooms, 1/3 cup Sherry, or Madeira.
Truss the squabs. Melt butter in a casserole dish with a tight-fitting lid. Add squabs along with onion, carrot, and salt. Saute until delicately browned on all sides, turning the birds frequently. Next add the bacon, mushrooms, and sherry or Madeira. Cover tightly and simmer in the oven gently for 40 or 45 minutes or until tender when tested with a fork. Do not over cook or they will fall apart. Remove birds, and serve with the sauce on the side.
Hearst Ranch Squab
6 plump squabs, 3 cups bread crumbs, 4 eggs, 2 cups grated Romano cheese, 2 gloves garlic, 2 teaspoons chopped parsley, 3 chopped onions, pinch of marjoram, salt and pepper to taste, 1/2 cup olive oil, 1 cup claret.
Drain squabs dry, cut off tips of wings. Mix ingredients, except oil and claret. Stuff birds with mixture and skewer closed. Brush birds with oil and place breast up in an uncovered baking dish. Bake in oven preheated to 400 degrees until brown (35 minutes). Brush with oil, baste with claret. Serve on thin toast with a Borderlino or California red wine.
Michael Patrick McCarty