Squab isn’t something I grew up with and, to this day, I eat it rarely. Don’t get me wrong; it’s fantastic eating it’s just that it’s a rare treat for two reasons:
- It’s a bit fussy to eat (although you can easily mitigate that if you eat with your hands).
- I sometimes struggle eating small animals. The death of a single moose serves 14 hunters and their families through an entire winter. It’s sad that the animal died for our meal but I sometimes struggle to imagine that 12 lives ended to fill a single pot.
Having said that, we’ve served squab to friends twice and found it remarkably easy to cook and absolutely delicious and really easy to cook.
Squab are farmed and can be purchased at some ‘real’ butcher shops as well as many traditional/ ‘ethnic’ grocery stores. I specify ‘ethnic’ as there’s not one specific culture that adores squab and you’ll find them in many different grocers (I often find them in Italian or Portugese stores). They can be sold fresh or frozen and are generally between $10-20 for 6. A half bird makes for a good appetizer and 1-2 will generally fill an adult (they are rich) though some may push for more. It’s one of the few farm-raised meats that taste close to the wild equivalent in my opinion.
My method of cooking reverses the traditional:
- I cook some of the ingredients first,
- Braise the birds
- Chill the birds
- Reduce my cooking liquid
- Cut the birds for serving
- Sear or broil the birds to create colour
The first 3 steps can be done up to a day in advance (and I think it’s better if you do). The final step can be done just before serving and you’ll have a stunning appetizer or a main. Leftovers can be warmed or eaten cold (they would make an unbelievable pot pie if you had the patience).
Although my photo shows 12 birds, I’ll share a recipe for 6 and you can double if you choose.
- 6 squab (they come cleaned and processed like MINI chickens)
- 1 liter/ quart chicken stock. I prefer butcher or homemade but if using industrial product, use the no-salt added option. The first two are generally far superior and just as affordable.
- 2 medium onion, chopped fine
- 3 medium-large (not GIANT) carrot, chopped fine
- 3-6 stocks of celery (I use lots), chopped fine
- 6 bay leaves; count your bay leaves when they go in.
- Garlic (optional; add with the onion)
- 3 tablespoons olive oil (it’s for flavor as much as it’s for cooking)
- Salt, pepper to taste
Directions – (for 1 and 2 day preparation; your choice)
- Pre-heat oven to 350
- Heat a heavy sauce/ frying pan over medium-high heat. Once hot, add olive oil.
- Just as the olive oil begins to show the first signs of smoking, add the vegetables (including the garlic if using) and season with salt and pepper. Cook until slightly soft (a few minutes). Your kitchen should be smelling wonderfully. You’ll probably get a little hungry and might want to eat a carrot right now. If you’ve got one, go for it. I won’t tell.
- Dump stock into pot and turn off heat. Stir a few times.
- Remove some of the veg and place on bottom of a heavy oven-safe container (that has a lid).
- Place squab on top (if you double this recipe, put a layer of veg between the birds). Pack them as tightly as needed..
- Cover the birds with remaining veg and stock. If you need to add additional water to submerge everything feel free to add enough to just do so.
- Add bay leaves, place lid on pot and place in oven for an hour.
- Remove squab from oven and let them cool until you can handle them. Carefully remove the birds and place on a separate container in fridge. They will want to fall apart so handle with care. You could also end day 1 here and store the squab in the liquid and add the remaining steps to day 2 if you’d like. You can also just do everything all at once and forget about doing this in 2 days
- Remove bay leaves (this is why you counted them) and cook stock on medium high. As soon as the veg is completely soft, cook it even longer until it’s really, really soft. Puree with an immersion blender or a food processor.
- Reduce stock until it’s very thick – there should be less than a cup of it. You may choose to strain it but if you blended it when it was really, really soft, you should be thrilled with this magical sauce that you have created. You can place it in fridge.
- Remove bridge from fridge (you are best to take them out of fridge and stock 30-40 minutes before cooking). They will be delicate but a bit easier to handle when they are cold so cut them when chilled.. I use a large knife to split them up the middle (a leg and a wing will remain with each half).
- Move rack to top of oven and place oven on broil.
- Warm sauce gently.
- Gently scatter the half-birds (skin-side up) on a cookie sheet. Season with salt and pepper.
- Place birds under broiler, watching them as they brown. This should take 1-3 minutes. They may appear a bit charred in points but that’s fine.
- Serve with sauce (we also did matchstick frites which were great!)
What do you think of squab? Would you eat it or cook it? How do you cook it?