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Monday, April 1, 2013

Beer-can pigeon: It's what's for dinner

Posted By on 04.01.13 at 07:32 AM

Take that, flying rat
It starts every spring with the first melting snow. The grass that grows up to the base of my building makes its first appearance, crusted and smothered by a winter's worth of black-and-white guano. When I consider this, along with the hours of sleep lost to the weird carnal cooing that emerges from underneath the eaves in the early dawn, or the revolting gray down feathers that descend in front of my window when the flying rats groom each other, my blood boils.

In the winter I've tried lobbing snowballs at the roost; in the summer turning the garden hose on it when the birds return at sundown. But they always come back, fluttering, cooing, mocking. The final straw came this bright and sunny Sunday, as I returned home after an idyllic afternoon spent foraging for goose eggs along the banks in River Park. Before I could turn the key in the door, I felt a warm, wet splat on the edge of my head, and in an instant a trail of goo stretched to my shoulder and down the front of my jacket.

The sorts of people who claim this is good luck are the Neville Chamberlains of urban survival. I've been known to seek culinary solutions to problems caused by urban wildlife. The time had come to widen the circle of life.

Well never go hungry

At some point we stopped eating pigeons in this country. Certainly the very first Americans ate them in abundance, as did the first European settlers. Our appetite for the passenger pigeon drove it to extinction. And yet it appears that pigeon eating is coming back into style. Hunting and foraging authority Hank Shaw likes them. The English would starve if they didn't eat pigeons.

So if it's OK to eat wild country pigeons, is there any reason why we can't eat their bread-crumb-eating, popcorn-pecking urban cousins? "Most problematic issues can be taken care of by thorough cooking, so eating is going to be the least of your worries," says Steve Sullivan, curator of urban ecology for the Chicago Academy of Sciences and a specialist in urban wildlife.

I was able to source a flock of humanely killed city pigeons—I won't say where—but let's just say they won't be keeping anyone awake anymore. First, I dunked them briefly in a pot of boiling water to loosen their feathers, then plucked them clean before gutting them. I'm sure you know how that goes.

I imagined sort of an inverse of the dramatic technique of beer-can chicken, in which a bird is gracelessly squatted on an open can of herb-spiced beer and placed atop a charcoal grill. Instead, I cut the tops off a bunch of aluminum cans half filled with Malort, along with some oregano and thyme, and dunked my pigeons in headfirst. An hour over gentle, indirect heat and these birds were falling-off-the-bone tender, just in time for Easter dinner.

Most guests communicated a general surprise that city pigeons didn't have any of the musky taste of bigger wild game. I don't think that's an indication that it was overseasoned. I think it's because pigeon doesn't have an assertive flavor to begin with, at least not one that corresponds with its brazen behavior.

Proverbially, it tastes like chicken.

Mike Sula writes about cooking every Monday.

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