We all have our favourite ingredients. Take a gander at the recipe archive and you'll see I use thyme quite a lot, love sherry vinegar, and am rather partial to the odd splash of Henderson's Relish. Well now you can add hot pepper jelly to the list. Specifically Jules & Sharpie's. Sainsbury's sell it at £1.99 for 220g. Ocado sell it as well, at £3.49 for the larger size of 300g. They (Jules & Sharpie that is) also have a section on their site where you can enter your postcode to find your nearest stockist. Any road, I've been using it to enliven many a sandwich/toastie but yesterday had the frankly inspired idea to use it in the gravy for this recipe, rather than the dollop of redcurrant jelly I'd have normally used. It made for a luscious jus. Yes, I did just write jus.
Wood pigeons are, bless the little buggers, available all year round. And if you are delicate of nature and have not tried game before, they are a perfect introduction - just gamey enough, but not overpoweringly so. It's a piece of piss to remove the breasts, but you can, of course, ask your butcher to do it for you.
This recipe might seem ever so slightly fiddly, but it's all dead simple and you can do the majority of it well in advance.
2 pigeons, breasts removed
for the gravy:
carcasses from the pigeons, roughly chopped up
a splash of olive oil
500 ml chicken stock
2 heaped tsps hot pepper jelly
2 sprigs thyme
2 garlic cloves, peeled but whole
1 knob of butter
for the potato cakes:
425g potatoes, in chunks (I used the waxy Cyprus)
knob of butter
4 rashers of fairly thick pancetta, diced
4 spring onions, finely sliced
pinch dried sage
1 egg, beaten
plain flour, for forming
250g baby leaf spinach
knob of butter
butter and oil for frying
salt + black pepper
Boil the potatoes until cooked, drain, allow to dry off and then mash, adding a knob of butter. Put the diced pancetta, along with the onions and sage, in a dry pan and fry until golden. Add to the mash, together with a beaten egg. Season and beat with a wooden spoon. Allow the mixture to cool, then put into the fridge to firm up.
Season the chopped up carcasses, throw them into a roasting tin and drizzle with a little oil. Roast at 220C/200C for about 15 minutes or so, until nicely browned. Then transfer to a pan and add all of the other ingredients for the gravy, except for the butter. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until the liquid has reduced by roughly a half. Strain the liquid, then return to the (wiped clean) pan and put to one side.
Dust your work surface and hands with a little flour, then form the potato mixture into two flat, round patties. Fry them in a little vegetable oil until crisp and golden on both side then transfer to a shallow dish in a low oven while you finish the rest of the cooking.
Wipe the frying pan clean, heat it up again and add a little oil and a knob of butter. Season the pigeon breasts and fry for around 4-5 minutes, turning several times. Remove and leave to rest while you finish the rest of the cooking.
Bring the gravy back to the boil, and let it simmer and reduce even more. Keep an eye on it - you don't want it to boil away to nothing - and, when it's intense enough for your liking, taste and add a little more hot pepper jelly if you think it could do with it. Whisk in a knob of butter and season to taste. Meanwhile, add the spinach and a knob of butter to a pan and wilt. Season and gently drain.
Have two plates ready. Place a potato cake on the centre of each one, followed by the spinach. Rest the pigeon breasts on top. Pour a little of the gravy around the potato cakes and serve the rest in a jug.