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Grilled Doves, Portuguese Style

The flavors in here are purely Portuguese—garlic, chile peppers, bay leaves, paprika, sweet wine, olive oil. Having never been to Portugal, I have no idea if they hunt doves there. I do know that these flavors are off the hook on dove. They’re buzzed in a food processor until smooth and used as a marinade.

Doves are especially good marinated because they’re so small. According to food scientist Harold McGee, marinades penetrate meat to a depth of only about 1/4 inch during an overnight soak. This is more than enough to get to the center of a whole dove. If you’re not a hunter, use domestic squab for this recipe—just make sure to lower the number of birds per person to one or two, as squab is a lot larger than dove. The marinade will still penetrate more than halfway through the squab’s meaty parts. Like duck, dove (and squab) is red meat and should be grilled only to medium or medium-rare.

Unfortunately for non-hunters, doves cannot be bought. They must be hunted. However, you can get very close to the flavor of wild dove by buying farm-raised squab, which is young pigeon. Squab is available in some gourmet markets as well as online from the California Squab Producers.–Hank Shaw

LC What to Sip Note

These delicate little birds are deceptively robust in terms of flavor. As such, they require a glass of something sturdy. As Hank Shaw, who expounds upon his dove-hunting antics, once told us, “Drink a lusty Touriga Naçional with these birds, and you won’t be disappointed.”

Grilled Doves Recipe

  • Quick Glance
  • 15 M
  • 30 M
  • Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 4 to 5 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 4 to 5 bay leaves, crumbled fine
  • 4 to 5 small hot chile peppers (ideally piri-piri peppers, but Thai are fine)
  • 1 tablespoon sweet paprika
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt
  • 1 cup sweet white wine, ideally white Port or Madeira
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon honey (optional)
  • 12 to 16 whole doves, or substitute 4 to 8 whole squab
  • Freshly ground black pepper, for serving

Directions

  • 1. To make the grilled doves, place all of the ingredients except the honey, doves, and black pepper in a food processor or blender and buzz until smooth, about 1 minute. Pour the marinade into 1 or 2 large resealable freezer bags and add the doves. Seal and mix the marinade around the doves so they’re well coated. Toss in the fridge overnight.
  • 2. The next day, transfer the doves to a plate and pour the marinade into a small pot. Bring the marinade to a boil, stirring often. Taste it. If you want a hit of sweet-hot going on, a lot like a Portuguese BBQ sauce, add the honey.
  • 3. Get your grill as hot as it will go. You want the temperature to be at least 550°F (287°C) although 600°F (315°C) is better.
  • 4. Place the doves on the grill, breast side up. Cover the grill and cook the doves, undisturbed, for 4 to 6 minutes, depending on how done you like them. Around 4 minutes will result in medium-rare doves. (That said, all the Portuguese I know love their meat with more than a little char on it, so you can grill them for 1 to 2 minutes or so more if you want them blackened. This means you’ll grill the doves for 6 to 10 minutes total.)
  • 5. Remove the birds from the grill and let them rest for at least a few minutes. Pour the warm sauce over the birds and grind some black pepper on top. Eat with your hands. Be sure to set out bowls nearby for the bones.
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