Roasted squab

Please read this after breakfast.

The question is this: would we all be vegetarians if we had to kill before we cooked? I pose this curler after coming not from a kill, but from a clean.

I had dragged home a couple of squab — necks, heads, beaks and feet attached, feathers removed. Do you have the picture? I approached the job with a brave face, but there was a lump in the throat when the cleaver went through the bird’s neck. Believe me, it is tough going, and it is something I much prefer to leave to somebody else. The first one was okay, a routine chop at the neck and feet, guts torn out, a bit of a wash, and it was ready for the pan.

Across the bench, the mother of our children said plaintively: ‘They look so much like babies.’ I gulped and soldiered on.

About then things started to go terribly wrong. I put the heavy knife through the little fellow’s neck and, there was its last meal, a handful of dried peas. Now look here, you are saying to yourself, why is this mug putting such things down on paper for perpetuity? Simple, I want to elicit in you the sort of feelings that came through me. This was revulsion at its highest level. Even now as I write I wonder how I kept going. On your behalf, I suppose.

But is it not true? If we had to kill our own, would we not all be eating salads, rather than saveloys? Certainly not squab.

But, take note. If you treat squab just like any other bird or beast, it is truly a food of wonder. Deeply flavoured, on the way to gamey; rich, red, tender, lovely. Like most richly flavoured dishes, it needs little to improve its flavour. If you serve it in a salad, use a sweet vinegar to cut through the bird’s richness — perhaps raspberry vinegar, or balsamic vinegar with a simple oil. There is nothing wrong with a strongly flavoured stock-based sauce, but it seems a waste of time to me.

Get your butcher to clean your squab. Wipe it inside and out, getting the skin as dry as you can. One bird will serve two people, easily.


Roast the squab in a hot oven for about 15 minutes. Remove from the heat, but leave in the same hot pan for another 10 minutes while you get the rest of the show organised. Squab is best served on the rare side of medium, but not dripping with blood. Cook it more, if your prefer. The breasts will be most tender when on the bottom side of medium, but still tender enough when dry and well done.


Cover the breasts with silver foil towards the end, or even better, slice the breasts free to leave the legs a little longer to cook.


The carcasses make for a delicious, rich, gamey stock — a wonderful base for a winter soup, laced with beans, carrots and pasta; or, at its simplest, tossed through rice or cooked into risotto.


You can slice the breasts and legs clear, and cook them quickly in the pan, or on the grill or barbecue. The breasts will take only a few minutes, at most. Serve with the breasts sliced very finely — about a dozen slices to the breast — and serve tossed through freshly made pasta, lightly touched with tomato and thyme; or simply through a rich virgin olive oil; or even more simply, allowed to cool and served as a squab sandwich on thin, homemade white bread, with stacks of black pepper.

WINE: Squab. On the way to gamey — like the hunter who came into a clearing to find a beautiful, naked woman. He slinked up and said, ‘Are you game?’

‘Yes,’ she husked. So he shot her. Penfold’s style of red is the go here — Bin 389, Magill Estate or Bin 707, preferably one with six or more years bottle age.