Monday, July 7, 2008

Pigeon Talk

I was out wandering around a favourite Lebanese bakery/grocery store yesterday when "Frozen Egyptian Pigeons" caught my eye. Right beside the frozen quail. Intriguing, I thought. Is this a mis-translation? It was a little too expensive for my pocket to experiment and I had no idea what to do with it.

Besides, the pigeons that were making a summer camp on my balcony have returned.

In the local news there is a story about the collapse of a local pigeon breeding enterprise that has left thousands of pigeons likely to be gassed.

Brian Caldwell
Documents were seized from a Waterloo office this week as officials try to determine the scope of a collapsed pigeon-breeding operation. Darren Grandel, regional manager for the Ontario SPCA, got a court order to search Pigeon King International for information on the number and location of birds. "Our main concern is that they aren't starving to death," he said.
Company founder Arlan Galbraith has said he signed up 1,000 breeders on farms in Canada and the United States, fuelling estimates there could be 400,000 pigeons in Ontario alone. What will happen to them all has been unclear since Galbraith, 61, sent breeders a letter last week telling them the controversial business is "dead in the water."

Starting in 2001, Galbraith recruited farmers -- many of them Amish and Mennonite -- to buy pigeons and breed them under 10-year contracts. He promoted the business as a salvation for family farms, selling pairs of breeding pigeons for up to $500, but promising to buy back their offspring at lucrative prices. Once a huge breeding network was established, Galbraith said, he would set up processing plants and develop food markets for squab -- young pigeon meat -- at reasonable prices. Critics, however, alleged Pigeon King was an elaborate Ponzi, or pyramid, scheme and several U.S. states blocked Galbraith from recruiting unless he could prove it was a viable business. Breeders who invested up to $200,000 now have nowhere to sell the offspring, although one area group is exploring ways to sell the birds for food on its own.
So, I looked it up - isn't the internet a wonderful resource for a late Sunday night?
What I discovered is that this is indeed a delicacy in Egypt.

I have enclosed two recipes for your collection.
Has anyone travelled to Egypt and sampled this?
Is anyone willing to try this with a local pigeon?
Is it even legal to eat pigeon?

Hamam Meshwi
(Char-grilled Pigeon)

A traditional Egyptian dish of marinated char-grilled pigeons (though poussin works well as a substitute).

4 plump pigeons (or poussin)
2 large handful of flat-leaf parsley leaves

For the Marinade
Juice of 2 lemons
2 onions, roughly chopped
6 cloves garlic
6 tbsp olive oil
sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper to taste

First make the marinade by placing all the ingredients in a blender and purée into a liquid. Meanwhile cut the pigeons in half through the breast and snip the body at the leg and wing joints (this allows them to flatten when cooking). Place the birds in a dish and cover with the marinade. Leave them for an hour, turning occasionally to ensure they are evenly covered.

Heat the barbecue until the embers are glowing. Oil the grill and place the birds on top. Allow the birds to become brown before turning. Cook until the meat is rosy in colour but still tender. Arrange on a plate, sprinkle the chopped parsley over the top and serve.

Hamam Mahshy
(Stuffed Pigeon)

4 pigeons (1 lb each) - pigeon giblets, chopped - onion, chopped - butter - salt - pepper - cornmeal - mint - cooked rice

Preheat oven (200°C/400°F).
Heat the butter and add the onion, salt, pepper and giblets.
Then, toss the giblets in cornmeal and mint until golden brown.
Clean the pigeons and rub them inside and out with salt and pepper.
Stuff each pigeon with the giblets and the previously cooked rice.
Place the pigeons in a casserole.
Add enough hot water to cover the bottom of the casserole.
Pour the remaining butter over the pigeons.
Roast in preheated oven for 50 minutes.
Add additional water when needed.
Put some of the pigeon stock in a saucepan with the remaining cornmeal.
Cover and simmer for about 30 minutes.
Serve with the roast pigeons.


  1. Pigeon is indeed a delicacy, especially baby pigeon. Unfortunately, in North America people see pigeons as rats with wings...

    I can't help but wonder how this guy thought he'd be able to sell the whole pigeon thing here...

  2. Errr- thank you for that. I might make it, except that I'll substitute tofu for pigeon.

  3. Several years ago here in Chicago, someone in (questionable) power came up with the idea that to cull the pigeon population it would be a good idea to catch, kill and cook them....and then feed them to the homeless. Seriously.

    It didn't catch on.

  4. XUP: tofigeon, perhaps? ;)

    Robin: those lucky homeless get all the delicacies :{

    Jazz: I can't but wonder how so many people got suckered

  5. I wonder if they "taste like chicken". ;-)

  6. My parents are from Egypt and when we go back to visit extended family, we do indeed eat pigeon and I can safely say it is absolutely delicious. I have never ever tried it here. I don't know if pigeons that have to survive Canadian winter would be extremely "tough" but the pigeon in Egypt has very tender meat. Think of Cornish hens, but much tastier...

  7. Noha: Thanks for stopping by. And for confirming that pigeon is tasty! I have had quail and cornish hens, though can't honestly say what I remember of their taste. I am adventurous enough that I might have tried it had it not been so expensive.

  8. We had never seen a pigeon until I moved away from home. We know that sounds utterly ridiculous, but it only fuels my conviction that pigeons shouldn’t exist in nature. Growing up in the country, far from any urban center worth mentioning, pigeons were nowhere to be seen.

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