The simplicity of braised game birds

November 14th, 2011

Our mild “arrière saison” continues to allow more leaf-raking time and longer walks along the river.   But the chill, thick fog shrouding the Dordogne’s banks is a sure sign that winter lies just around the corner.  Clues to the shopper in the market stalls include curly savoy cabbage, a few boxes of just-dug parsnips, flats of blette/chard and mounds of pink, white or yellow onions.  On my rounds in a recent Thursday morning market, it was the tiny game bird in the poultry vendor’s cooler that caught my eye – too dark to be a coquelet/little rooster, too small to be a pintade/guinea hen.  So I asked Jacqueline as she popped six fresh eggs into my egg box,…” what is this single, dark little bird?” Her answer fueled my imagination : a palomb….a wild dove.  What luck:  game in the market!  So, with visions of a simple dinner of game with rosy onions and tart apples, I headed back to the kitchen for a cup of after-market coffee and planning session.  Not much effort was involved, in fact a basic braise is best when not sure whether it is tough or tender.

One bird, one of each:  a carrot, an apple, onion, garlic, bay leaf, herbs of choice, all lined up.  If it is to be “casseroled”, use an oven-proof pan.  My choice is the range (getting used to using the electric panels in my apartment), so a heavy-bottomed sa ucepan is the pot of choice.  Allowing about an hour from start to finish; this can be done early in the day and simply warmed through before dinner.  I started with a little duck fat (or use a combo of butter and olive oil) to cook the sliced vegetables until firm but almost transparent, then slid them off into a side dish.  Add more fat and increase heat to sear the bird (having emptied the liver and gizzard from the cavity and filled it with bay leaf and thyme), turning to brown it evenly.  Then lower heat, add a cup of red wine, stir and heap the onions and apples over the bird, cover and let simmer for 30 minutes.  The liver and heart lend more flavor, so add with the vegetables.  Test with a fork at the joints – if it is running red, the palomb would be done to please a diner in southewest France.  Scoop the veg onto the bird and let it simmer on low for another ten minutes if you prefer it done a little more.  A few of this season’s prunes tossed in at this point make it a sweeter  dish.  While it simmers (add wine so that it is never dry), cook a little brown rice and chop up a cupful of parsley mixed with crushed garlic and lemon zest to sprinkle over it all before serving….and Bon Appétit!

Stir as it braises...wonderful aromas when the lid is lifted!