Dove-Taled

Dove as a dish came late to me because my father maintained that the bird that brought Noah the best tidal measurements in the history of the world deserved better than being shot at by a bunch of back-sliders wearing camo. For him, Biblical precedent reserved doves for a far more dignified fate than the inevitable end result of being cleaned, cooked and eaten, not to mention being shot in the first place.

But most of his friends, relatives and other riff-raff considered this notion nothing more than posturing on his part and saw doves more as manna from heaven, ready to be plucked from the sky and readied for the table. As a result, despite a boyhood devotion to avian evangelism, I have eaten dove prepared by some of the best cooks in Calhoun County, Mississippi, which is no small matter indeed.

A supper of smothered dove came home from hunting camps all over Dixie and–like an amicable hound–settled complacently in the kitchen. Smothered dove takes many forms, usually according to who’s cooking it and when it’s to be served. The more robust methods, involving substantial breading and a very thick gravy, is a country dinner favorite, most often served with rice and biscuits. A lighter version is generally served as a brunch or buffet item with grits if in the morning, with rice later in the day.

For a dinner dish, soak your dove breasts for one hour in buttermilk. Drain, add one egg to a cup of milk, drench breasts in this mixture and toss with flour seasoned with salt, pepper and paprika. Brown in oil, then move the breasts to a baking dish. Add enough flour to the remaining oil to make a light brown roux, and enough stock to make a light gravy. Salt to taste and season with a liberal sprinkling of black pepper. Ladle the gravy over the birds and bake in a medium oven (around 350), covered, until the birds are tender and the gravy reduced.

For the lighter version, brown the breasts in butter and set aside. Make a slightly darker roux, and add enough stock for a somewhat thinner gravy. Season lightly; salt and pepper, a little thyme, and a slosh of good sherry. (Not cooking sherry; no.) Spoon the sauce over the birds and bake in a medium oven until tender. Remove with a slotted spoon, arrange on a bed of rice, and coat with the remaining sauce.

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