Other hunters roll their eyes at Jesse Griffiths for plucking whole doves.
It's faster and more common to "breast them out," meaning, to pull off the breast, skin the breast, and discard the rest of the bird. That takes 15 seconds. But Griffiths, chef and owner of Dai Due — a butcher shop, supper club, and cooking school in Austin — would rather spend three to four minutes plucking so he can use the whole bird. "You'll get twice as much out of it — legs, wings — and I like to save the livers, hearts, and gizzards," he says.
Griffiths sautés the small hearts, gizzards, and livers with onions, adds stock and brown rice, and simmers it all together for a delicious, gamey pilaf. (Find that recipe in his new cookbook Afield). He wraps the bodies in bacon and roasts them on a cast-iron skillet. (Find that recipe below.)
Annual dove-hunting season in Texas starts September 1 and runs until the end of October, then starts again for a month in mid-December. The legal limit is 15 doves per person, and three or four doves make a meal for one person. "If you're dove hunting with me at one of my spots, you have to pluck your doves. It's a rule," says Griffiths, who uses this same technique for quail or snipe. "It was a little life, and I just can't stand throwing part of that away."
HOW TO PLUCK AND CLEAN DOVES
This technique will work for most small birds, like quail and snipe.
1. Pull out the feathers gently toward the head, taking care not to rip the skin. Use your thumb to rub off any remaining pinfeathers and fluff from the bird.
2. Cut the head off at the base of the neck, cutting below the grain-filled crop. Cut the legs off just below the knee.
3. Hold the bird breast down and cut along one side of the spine from the exposed neck area all the way to the tail. Continue cutting around the vent, making a shallow cut just deep enough to go through the skin, avoiding the entrails.
4. Cut around the vent completely and then back up the other side of the spine to the neck. You have now cut out the entire spine and vent in one piece.
5. Grip the exposed spine from the neck end and pull upward — this should remove all of the entrails, gizzard, and liver.
6. Remove the hard, round gizzard.
7. Remove the liver.
8. Remove the heart from the bird and set aside.
9. Clean the gizzard: Cut the gizzard in half along its equator, exposing its grit-filled interior.
10. The halved gizzard:
11. Pull the membrane lining the middle of the gizzard with your fingernail and remove the membrane and grit. Repeat with the other half.
12. Wash the bird, heart, liver, and cleaned gizzard under cool, running water. Pat dry and place in separate bags (one for birds, one for giblets). Refrigerate for up to five days or wrap tightly in plastic wrap (or vacuum seal) and freeze.
These doves — roasted with bacon and stuffed with bread, sage, caraway seed, and lemon — are simple but impressive. Serve them with a fresh, crisp salad and some glazed carrots.
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
2 slices bread, finely diced
1 egg, beaten
2 tsp dried sage
1 garlic clove, chopped
1 tsp caraway seed
2 Tbsp milk
Zest of 1 lemon
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 whole doves, quail, or snipe, plucked and gutted
2 Tbsp. olive oil
8 slices high-quality bacon
1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.
2. In a medium bowl, combine the melted butter, bread, egg, sage, garlic, caraway, milk, and lemon zest. Season with salt and pepper. Mix well and let sit for a few minutes.
3. Rub each bird with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Stuff each bird with as much stuffing as it will hold, then wrap a slice of bacon around each breast, tucking the bacon under the wings so that the wings are exposed to more heat and will crisp nicely.
4. Place the birds in a single layer in an ovenproof dish or cast-iron pan. Roast on the top rack of the oven until the bacon is cooked and the birds are firm but still pink on the inside, 15 to 20 minutes. Let the birds rest for a couple minutes before serving.