Writer Alice B. Toklas was once asked to smother six pigeons. It was after the war. She was in Paris, enjoying the city’s gustatory bounty. One afternoon, while walking past his loge, she heard the concierge call her name. She turned to find him breathlessly insisting he had a surprise for her. “He said he would bring it to me,” she writes in The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook (1954), “which he did and which I wished he hadn’t when I saw what it was, a crate of six white pigeons and a note from a friend saying she had nothing better to offer us from her home in the country, ending with But as Alice is clever she will make something delicious of them.”
Alice did make something delicious of her hapless feathered charges. Emboldened by a “large cup of strong black coffee,” she “found the spot on poor innocent Dove’s throat” where she was to press until the bird expired. One by one she smothered her white pigeons, realizing with the yielding silence of each death that “there was no denying one could become accustomed to murdering.”
Toklas turned her avian victims into a simple but delectable dish of braised pigeons on croûtons. If you don’t feel up to smothering six pigeons, use (already smothered) Cornish hens instead.
Braised Pigeons on Croûtons
For 6 pigeons cut 1/2 lb. salt pork in small cubes, place in Dutch oven with 6 tablespoons butter, place pigeons in oven, brown slightly, cover and cook over low flame for 1 hour turning and basting frequently. While pigeons are cooking wash and carefully dry 2 lbs. mushrooms. Chop them very fine, and pass through a coarse sieve, cook over brisk fire in 1/4 lb. butter until liquid has evaporated. Reduce flame and add 1 cup heavy cream sauce and 1/2 cup heavy cream. Spread on 6 one-half-inch slices of bread that have been lightly browned in butter. Spread the purée of mushrooms on the croûtons. Place the pigeons on the croûtons. Skim the fat from the juice in the Dutch oven, add 2 tablespoons Madeira, bring to a boil and pour over pigeons. Salt for this dish depends upon how salty the pork is. Serves 6 to 12 according to size of pigeons.
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