One chef, one ingredient: Eric Guérin on pigeon

If you are what you eat, then it could be said that chefs are what they cook. This week, Eric Guérin, chef at La Mare aux Oiseaux and Le Jardin des Plumes, picked pigeon.

Why pigeon?

Eric Guérin : This is an iconic element of my cooking, which is based on migration, or the birds' search for food. It symbolizes my encounter with Rémy and Mathieu Anezo, two exemplary pigeon farmers in Mesquer [in the Loire-Atlantique department on the west coast of France]. I like the flavor of pigeon which is both fruity and gamey, its firm, tender meat, and the huge range of combinations possible given the diversity of its biotopes.

Your most cherished memory related to pigeon?

Eric Guérin : My most cherished memory is of a meal at Christophe Aribert's at Les Terrasses d'Uriage, where he cooks Mesquer pigeons too. I must have had four or five that night.

When is pigeon in season?

Eric Guérin : It's perennial. What's interesting is that it goes with produce from every season: asparagus, peas in the spring, and with some shellfish, mushrooms and Jerusalem artichoke in the winter. It's tasty just grilled on the barbecue in summer or festively garnished for a holiday meal.

What's the best way to cook it?

Eric Guérin : I like to take off the thighs, salt them and cook them in fat to get a confit. I take the breasts, brown them in olive oil with a garlic clove, fleur de sel de Guérande and freshly ground pepper, then bake them for 4 minutes at 170°C (340°F). I leave them in the aluminum foil for 10 min., then remove the fillets, which you can combine with any trimmings you like.

What other foods can you cook pigeon with to bring out the flavor?

Eric Guérin : These days I cook it with an octopus carpaccio and mashed potatoes with squid ink, in a seaweed bouillon.

What are the most common mistakes people make when cooking pigeon?

Eric Guérin : The most common mistake people make is choosing the wrong supplier. Farmers who shell out for wholesome feed for their birds are few and far between, because it's expensive compared to GMOs and other pellets. You need to go for pink pigeons with rounded chests. Be careful not to overcook it either.

What kind of wine goes best with pigeon?

Eric Guérin : A Thierry Michon Fief Vendéen.