Wild About - Dove (Dove Saltimbocca Bites)

Eating wild foods isn't just about foraging for herbs and berries. Large and small game, fish, shellfish, and insects are great wild resources to take advantage of when it comes to eating the best. Not only do these meats have exceptional flavor (which will always be my number one reason to eat them), but wild animals live and eat as nature intended, which means that they offer the very best in nutrition, too.

If you didn't grow up in a household where hunting and fishing were commonplace, I understand that eating game can seem a bit adventurous. But the meat is always flavorful, and usually inexpensive (if you consider the cost of licenses, ammo, etc). Plus, you have the advantage of knowing exactly which animal your meat came from. You get to see with your own eyes that it was healthy.

The other good thing about eating wild meats is that it forces you to really acknowledge that you are eating an animal. Unlike meat that comes pre-cut, packed in neat plastic packages, and pumped with gas to keep it from turning grey, you know that game meat has come from an animal, something which lived and breathed and had a life all it's own.

And why is that a good thing, you ask? Well, when you know, really know, think about, and own the fact that your meat came from an animal, it's very hard to take that meat for granted. It may make you very sad to bear witness to the end of an animal's life. But you give thanks for it, you see to it that very little goes to waste, and you realize how the life force of that animal passes into you when you eat it, which is sacred. It's nearly impossible to have that same reverence for your food when you're eating a $1 burger that was assembled from the meat of possibly hundreds of animals.

And so, when I see a pile of doves before me, it doesn't freak me out, even though I love watching doves, and adore hearing them coo. In fact, I take a moment to think about those things before I begin cooking.

So, that said, lets dive into the recipe...

Doves are pretty small birds, with wonderful dark flesh that tastes somewhat like duck. If you're up for cleaning the entire bird, then definitely do so and enjoy the whole thing. I'd recommend simply spatchcocking the cleaned bird, seasoning it heavily with s&p, and cooking it skin-side down in a generous amount of lard in a cast iron skillet with a heavy weight on top. Done this way, a whole dove will cook up in around 5 minutes.

But, tearing off all of those darned feathers is a heck of a lot of work for so little meat. So instead, I favor harvesting just the breast meat and choice organs, and letting my cat dine on the rest.

Doing this is very simple. Take a dove in your hand, and turn it breast-side up. Tear out as many feathers from the breast area as you can. Using a pair of kitchen shears, pierce into the body cavity at the tail end, and make a cut up the entire length of the body just outside the breast. Repeat on the other side. Then simply snip off the top of the breast plate just under the neck. You should now have a complete breast, bone-in. Be sure to harvest the heart and liver at this point, if you like eating them, too.

Once you've got all of your breasts ready, rinse them under water, being careful to remove any remaining feathers.

Next, lay the breast on a cutting board and locate the breast bone. With a fillet knife, carefully remove the breast pieces from both sides of the breast bone. Just follow the curve of the breast bone with your knife. You should be left with lovely boneless pieces of meat. But rub your fingers over each piece to feel for bones such as wishbones or ribs, and pick them out if you should feel any.

After you've got your breast pieces filleted out, this recipes comes together very quickly. It's pretty traditional to wrap dove breast in bacon before cooking. This is a good idea because dove is very lean, and benefits from the fat. However, the bacon is so thick that if you cook it until it's crispy, the dove meat is overcooked. And dove breast simply must be kept rare, otherwise it'll get tough. So, I'd like to make the case for using prosciutto here. I understand that prosciutto is an expensive cut of meat, but this recipe doesn't use much of it (half a slice per dove breast). Prosciutto offers the same benefit of bacon, but it cooks to a crispy finish in the same time that it takes to perfectly cook the dove breast.

This recipe uses peeled 1/4" slices of apple inside the little bundles. But since the meat cooks very quickly, I like to give the apple slices a quick saute, just to soften them, before I start. Use any firm and tart cooking apple. I prefer to use the ones from my backyard tree, which are red delicious, but taste nothing like store-bought red delicious apples; they have just the right balance of sweet and tartness and hold together beautifully upon cooking.

Season each breast with salt and pepper, and lightly dust with cornstarch (this acts like glue to hold the little packages together). Cut a piece of prosciutto in half, then place a single breast on the end of it, followed by a slice of fried apple, and a sage leaf. Then carefully and tightly roll up the breast inside the prosciutto.

Get all of your breasts wrapped up in prosciutto, then fry them on both sides over medium heat in a cast iron pan, just until the prosciutto gets crispy, which only takes 2-3 minutes per side. Remember that it's very important not to overcook the dove. Once the prosciutto has gotten crispy and brown, remove the little bundles, and let the meat rest for a good five minutes before serving.

The finished dove saltimbocca bites are indeed full of flavors that jump in your mouth, with the rich taste of dove being balanced by the earthiness of sage and apple, and brought to life with porky fatty goodness. If you don't have access to dove, then this recipe would also work well with duck, squab, or even cornish hen.

If you love game as much as I do, then don't miss my favorite recipes for squirrel and deer. And if plants and berries are more your speed, then explore all of the fun forages I found over the growing season here.

This recipe is my entry into this week's Hearth and Soul hop, the best resource for recipes which nourish both the body and the soul. If you haven't already, hop on over and read some of the wonderful linked posts. I'm also sharing this recipe with Real Food Wednesday this week.

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