Squab. The UnPigeon
One of the world’s tastiest birds is squab, and it has one of the least romantic names, “utility pigeon.”
Traditionally poultry for the rich, squab boasts tender, rich tasting dark meat, and a fatty skin that cooks up to marvelous crispness just like duck.
These little birds are known for their exceptionally ample breast meat. They are relatives of common wood pigeons (those who swarm in parks and deface monuments) and mourning doves, but the latter two are never substituted, as their eating characteristics just don’t match.
Interestingly, squab is one of the only (if not the only) type of poultry commonly and safely served rare. The birds are harvested at 4 weeks of age, old enough to have developed their full body size (and all that succulent meat), but not enough to have ever flown, another contributor to their exquisite tenderness.
Among myMEGusta’s favorite squab preparations are those from France, from China, and from Morocco.
Paris’s finest restaurants all serve squab, sometimes the breast meat only, and always served rare or medium rare, with the rich and crispy skin still on, or sometimes roasted whole. For recipes requiring quick cooking, the legs and wings remain too tough, and find other uses in the kitchen, for example, in fine consommés.
In China, particularly at celebratory banquets, you’ll find roast or braised squab, an expensive treat.
The whole bird gets marinated, sometimes twice (once for flavor, once for the skin), then quickly roasted or deep fried so that the skin becomes like shiny mahogany but the meat stays juicy, then it is served with five spice salt and lemon. A stellar version is to be found at East Ocean Seaview Restaurant in Hong Kong (Kowloon side).
Sometimes the birds will be braised in rice wine/soy sauce/anise, and these can be found commonly at a Chinatown grocer.
Another classic Chinese preparation is to braise the birds, mince the meat, then mix it with additional accoutrements and serve with lettuce cups and hoisin sauce. These days, chicken is substituted in most restaurants, also making a delicious dish, usually offered as an appetizer.
One of Morocco’s national dishes is bisteeya, layers of filo dough encasing cooked squab plus seasonings and, usually, eggs, dusted with confectioner’s sugar and nuts or cinnamon. One variation, because of the cost of squab, is chicken, and dessert bisteeyas are also popular. On a recent visit to Fes, myMEGusta enjoyed it twice in one day: Traditional (with chicken and egg) at Palais Amani for lunch and fruit filled for dessert at Palais Faraj.
Squab can be purchased at retail, from D’Artagnan, purveyor to the finest restaurants in America: https://www.dartagnan.com/buy/squab/