Single minded: wood pigeon

Too often, Ed Smith argues, recipes focus on feeding a crowd or cooking as a couple and overlook the joy that can be had in shopping and cooking for one. In a monthly series, he looks to redress this imbalance by taking the best of the Market’s offering and using it to come up with a recipe for one, that leaves minimal leftovers. First up: wood pigeon

“Serves 2.” “Serves 4.” “Serves 6.” “Feed the family!” “Cook for a crowd!” Can you spot what’s missing?

For sure, shopping, cooking and eating can be fun, communal and convivial activities. But, with the occasional exception, it feels as though food supplements, magazines and cookbooks neglect a significant audience: the solo eater. Add to that the understandable sentiment of “I can’t be bothered to cook for just me” and we have a vicious, downward spiralling “shall I have a boring chicken fillet or boiled egg?” situation. We’d like to address this.

Here is the first in a series of posts that will hopefully show that shopping at the Market is as inspiring and rewarding if you’re cooking for just yourself, as it is if you were feeding a crew.

Seasonal and specialist 
Yes, Borough Market is an obvious place to come if you’re planning a dinner party and after that special grass-fed three-bone rib of beef, a whole turbot, a charcuterie platter or cheese board. But it’s also an excellent place to shop for key ingredients that will feed one person without waste or leftovers. You can buy a single chop, a one portion-sized line caught fish, precisely the number of chillies or root vegetables that you need—and, for that matter, get the weight of sliced meats or cheese that you need to treat only you.

Moreover, should you want it, there’s the added interaction between you and the traders. There’s taking a moment to watch the Demonstration Kitchen and just the general thrum of the place that I personally find turns cooking for just me from being an effort or inconvenience, into something that I actively want to do.

Once a month I’ll recount a walk around the Market as I shop for seasonal and specialist ingredients that are perfectly suited to a one-person meal. When cooking I’ll use some long-life ‘larder’ ingredients, but will otherwise try to keep the shopping list to one that suits a solo-sized shopping bag. Naturally there will still be a small amount of fresh or cooked ingredients that are surplus to even my appetite, so I’ll also suggest how they can be easily used up. Nothing will go to waste.

A one-bird roast 
You could, of course, buy a whole chicken or duck and turn that into five or six meals or more. But that’s not really the point of this series. Nevertheless, as I stand looking into the counter at Wyndham House Poultry, it strikes me that this is the perfect place to start. We’re still in game season at the moment and things like grouse and partridge are as suited as any meat to creating a meal for one. I’m drawn, however, to the section of wood pigeon hiding behind those prestigious birds—at half the price of the others, they’re something that can feel like a special treat and indulgence, but don’t make too much of a dent on the weekly shopping budget.

Pigeon meat is not as funky and ‘gamey’ as something like grouse or pheasant, but it is very rich and slightly ferrous. It needs sweetness and acidity to cut through it—things like figs, blackberries and plums—so I take the few small steps from Wyndham to Turnips for fruit and vegetable inspiration.

I eventually pick up a bunch of red seedless grapes, as I’m very into roasting these at the moment and though I’ll only use a small portion of the bunch this meal, the rest is easily consumed over the course of a week. At the same time, I spy radicchio tardivo—that funny, near claw-shaped purple radicchio with thin curling tendrils. It’s small and I think I’ll use most of it with the pigeon, but the rest will keep well when stored in a brown bag in the fridge. I’ll add that to salads and sandwiches, though as you’ll see it also takes heat well so you could always just have it as a side dish to something else, wilted in a pan and then dressed with extra virgin olive oil, salt and balsamic.

Quick vino cotto 
Which brings me back to the pigeon I’m cooking tonight, for myself—and, actually, I fancy a glass of red or two at the same time. With a bottle open, that means there’s a glass going spare for the pan and so I’ll make a jus for the pigeon, along with the grapes and a splash of some aged balsamic that I got from The Olive Oil Co on an earlier shopping trip. A kind of quick vino cotto.

Finally, some bulk. It’s autumn and the celeriac is calling—it’s the perfect match for pigeon—so on my way out of the Market I pick one up from Chegworth Valley. I could cut a quarter away at the start and just dice it and cook that down in butter (the rest will keep well for ages in the fridge), but I’m going to try a pretty hands-off, washing up free approach to the meal and just bake the celeriac in its own skin for 90 minutes before eating. Everything else can be cooked in one pan in around 10 minutes. Which means I’ll get a really interesting, seasonal meal for one, but with limited effort before, during and after. Ideal, I think.

Read Ed’s recipe for roast wood pigeon with baked celeriac, radicchio & grapes