Several species of dove are hunted as game, providing a natural source of lean, tender meat. The breast meat is often separated from the bone and prepared as a main course. Each half of a dove breast weighs about 2 ounces, so figure on at least two to three halves per person -- more for hearty appetites. Although breast meat is easier to prepare using stovetop methods, whole birds can be cooked properly under a watchful eye. Controlled heat and ample moisture are keys to creating a flawless dish.
Because dove meat is so fragile, fry the boneless breast portions as you would fry poultry nuggets. Use a deep iron skillet and a thermometer on the stovetop to ensure a constant oil temperature between 350 and 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Sesame, grapeseed or peanut oils have high smoke points, allowing you to quick-crisp the coating without overcooking the meat. Dip each breast half into buttermilk, then into flour lightly seasoned with salt and pepper, then back into the buttermilk and into the flour again. Immediately slide the meat into the hot oil and fry until golden. The meat is done when the juices are clear. Adjust the frying time according to the size and thickness of the meat pieces as well as how many pieces are in the skillet.
For an elegant dish that you can prepare on your stovetop, braise whole doves in a flavorful liquid. Heat enough olive oil or bacon drippings in a heavy iron skillet to gently brown six to eight doves, beginning with each side, then the breast; brown the backs last. Watch the birds carefully -- the tender skin browns in 2 or 3 minutes. To braise the browned birds, add liquid, cover the skillet with a tight-fitting lid, and reduce the cooking temperature to a slow simmer. Equal parts of dry red wine and olive oil make a flavorful braising liquid, with a bay leaf included to balance the flavors. Apple cider with Worcestershire sauce added to taste is another option; fresh mushrooms, thinly-sliced sweet onions, chopped shallots or chives complement any braising liquid. Simmer the birds until done, but just before the meat falls from the bones, about one hour. Maintain at least 1/4 inch of liquid in the pan, adding more as necessary.
Make kebabs using a small stovetop grill or griddle that fits over your burners. Wrap each piece of dove meat with a half-strip of bacon, securing it with a toothpick. Alternate dove pieces, jalapeno or sweet pepper chunks, and pineapple chunks on skewers, including other quick-cooking favorites such as cherry tomatoes or mushrooms if desired. Place the loaded skewers on a preheated grill, brushing the food with melted butter and turning the skewers as the food cooks. An aluminum foil tent over the stovetop grill corrals splatters from the cooking bacon, and it helps hold heat and moisture close to the food so it cooks faster. When the bacon is crispy and the dove juices run clear, the kebabs are ready to serve.
Herbs and Seasonings
You can season mild dove with only salt and pepper, or add savory herbs to enhance the wild game aspect of your dishes. Traditional poultry herbs such as sage and rosemary can be overpowering when teamed with delicate dove -- use them in small amounts or soften their taste by mixing them with parsley. As a substitute, both winter savory and summer savory offer a hint of sage without being too strong. Develop a milder herbal flavor by using thyme, marjoram, French tarragon or coriander seed.
- Bird Breeds: Columbidae
- Cooking For Engineers: Smoke Points of Various Fats
- The American Heritage Cookbook: Editors of American Heritage Magazine, 1964
- Missouri Department of Conservation: Wild Doves in Wine
- Tom Brakefield/Stockbyte/Getty Images