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 Dovey Dove Dove Note
Relax. We’re not suggesting you grill song birds. This recipe calls for a different type of dove. Scout’s honor. You’ll change your tune when you taste it. Trust us. 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, Portuguese Style
- 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 rosemary leaves
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.)
- 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.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
I made this with quail instead of doves. By my reckoning, 10-12 quail would replace the doves in this recipe. I had six quail, so I considered it a half recipe and scaled the other ingredients accordingly. I used white Port for the sweet wine. I marinated the quail for 24 hours in a one-gallon ziploc bag. They fit easily. A full recipe would probably fit, but could be split between two bags.
I grilled the quail at 525 degrees F, for 10 minutes, which resulted in very charred quail. But that is fine – the meat is all dark, and they don’t dry out too much. It’s worth being a bit aggressive on the grilling to get a nice char on the skin.
I boiled the marinade, then added the honey, reduced the heat and let simmer for a bit. After I let this cool, it had thickened up, and looked for all the world like a spicy peanut sauce. Amazingly, it tasted like a peanut sauce too. That’s a good thing, in my book. The finished sauce was just amazing.
I chose to serve the sauce on the side instead of pouring it over the quail. Small birds are messy enough as it is. The quail was excellent, and the sauce was fantastic. I will use this marinade and sauce again and again, as it was so easy to whip up and would work well with other meats.
Although I couldn’t get doves, quail filled the bill very nicely. The grilled quail have a great, not-too-spicy flavor, with just the right kick of heat. There is enough salt in the marinade, so just adding the freshly ground pepper at the table is the only extra you really need. The sauce was served on the side — the addition of honey made it perfect — and I enjoyed dipping into it with hunks of buttered, crusty bread. Dipping the meat was reserved to a minimum though, as the zestiness of the sauce can mask the wonderful grilled flavor already instilled into the quail. It seemed two quail per person was good, but with this preparation, some might go for three! I used a white port for the marinade. It still wasn’t quite sweet enough for my taste, so I added the tablespoon of honey. A large freezer bag accommodated 12 quail plus the marinade. For more than 12, a larger bag, or two bags, would be required.
As no squab or doves were available yet, I opted to use six quail. First I made the marinade and marinated the quail overnight in a large freezer bag. Then we grilled them for six minutes, which gave them a perfect char. We boiled the marinade and added honey for a bit of desired sweetness (honey is optional in the recipe, but in my opinion, it was needed). In fact, I added more than one tablespoon after tasting it — two tablespoons was just right. Upon tasting the dish, my husband said, “Love it. Definitely a keeper. I’d love you to make it again!” We both really enjoyed the pungent heat from the piri-piri peppers and the sweetness from the honey. The Madeira, rosemary, bay and garlic really balanced the flavors. This is a dish that can be messy (sauce and little bones) but that can also be fun! I’m eager to try this with squab in the autumn. Well worth making!
My husband and sons were invited to take part in a hunting party for the opening day of dove season. They came home with about 30 tiny dove breasts. I had no clue what to do, so I Googled dove recipes — every recipe seemed to just be Italian dressing as marinade and wrapped in bacon — ugh, I knew I could find better so I took a chance and looked on the Leite’s site — I was so excited to find a recipe! I marinated the breast only 5 hours, since the recipe called for whole doves, then my husband grilled them as directed. Considering none of us had ever tasted dove, I should have been open-minded, but I have to admit I didn’t plan to like it. To my surprise, it was wonderful. We all loved it. I tried to make the sauce but it never seemed to get very thick, even with adding more honey, but the dove didn’t even need the extra sauce. Thank you!
Originally published August 30, 2011