Delicious Fruits of the Dove Field
How to clean and cook these tiny morsels
Dove hunting has many rewards for its practitioners: The challenge of the marksmanship required to bring these birds to hand; the camaraderie shared in this, one of the more social experiences of the field; the superb table quality of the birds themselves.
A dove dinner is one of the finer culinary experiences that bless those of us fortunate enough to bring home a few of these birds. Another bonus is that doves are easy to clean and relatively simple to prepare.
Dressing the dove is forthright. With the bird on its back, place your thumbs on either side in the center of the breast, pressing down firmly and to the side.
The bird’s skin is delicate and will easily split and peel off the breast, leaving the meat clean and exposed. Next take a pair of sharp utility scissors or game shears and separate the entire breast from the rest of the carcass. It’s as simple as that.
The leg quarters may be removed with the scissors as well, the skin and feathers peeled off and the tiny quarters set aside for later consideration. They make a wonderful appetizer, browned in butter and garlic. But the breast meat is our prime consideration.
If you are still in the field while doing this basic preparation, place the cleaned dove meats in zip freezer bags; the thicker plastic of the freezer bags resists punctures by the small bones. Place a handful of ice in each bag to chill the breasts quickly. Store them in your cooler for the trip home.
Make it a point to bring a supply of trash bags if you’re going to clean your birds in the field so that you can take the offal and feathers with you. It is essential for sportspeople to leave the fields and streams we visit and enjoy in better condition than we find them. Removing our trash (and that of others if they have been thoughtless) is a primary rule.
Once you’re home, rinse the birds well and place them in a glass bowl with about a tablespoon of salt, a quarter cup of vinegar and enough water to cover all of the meat. This mixture will dissolve and extract any blood that has resulted from shot penetration and preserve the flavor of the meat.
Let them soak for and hour or so, or overnight, if you wish. Rinse the birds thoroughly once more and they are ready to be prepared for dinner.
Seasoned hunters all have their favorite recipes for this bird. I am no exception. If you like simplicity and reliability, you may be tempted to try my method. A dozen birds will serve three.
Pat the dove breasts dry. In a glass or ceramic bowl large enough to contain the doves, make a slurry of 1/4 cup of olive oil, salt, freshly ground pepper, paprika, a clove of finely minced or pressed garlic, some ground sage and minced rosemary.
Toss the breasts in the mixture until they are well coated; set aside for an hour or more to allow the meats to absorb the spices and attain room temperature.
The breasts should then be lightly coated with flour and sautéed in a large skillet in 1⁄8 cup of butter melted in 1⁄8 cup of olive oil over medium high heat. At about the four-minute mark, add about a dozen baby portabella mushroom caps, quartered.
When the breasts have been well browned (about five minutes or so) add 1/2 cup of white wine, reducing the heat to medium low. Then partially cover and simmer the breasts for another six to seven minutes. The finished breasts should still show a hint of pink in the center.
Remove the breasts from the skillet. To the remaining liquid (and mushrooms), add a dash or two of Worcestershire sauce, and thicken it just a bit with flour or corn starch. You can extend the amount of gravy with chicken broth if you desire. Add salt and pepper and ladle over the dove breasts as they are served.
My favorite accompaniments with this meal are lots of wild rice, peeled and chunked large carrots (not the baby pre-peeled variety) and fresh green and yellow string beans. You won’t find a meal like this anywhere on this continent except at the table of another dove hunter.