All Dove, No Bacon
Based on what I’ve seen at game feeds of all sizes across the U.S., the preferred method for cooking doves is to marinate for several hours and wrap with bacon along with jalapeno pepper and either cheese or cream cheese.They do taste great, don’t they? For some folks, the victory is that they don’t taste like doves. Perhaps it’s not the dove, but how they’re prepared that makes them taste a little funky.
If you cook a dove breast until it is medium-rare, and I’m talking no more than 130 to 135 degrees, it doesn’t taste the least bit funky. It’s actually very mild and much like any other lesser-cooked dark-fleshed game meat. If you cook it past medium-rare, it starts to get agamey edge to it. A well-done whole doveor dove breast is, to me, not one of my favorites. So, if you can’t stomach rare to medium-rare meat, keep plenty of your favorite marinade and bacon on hand. Or, you can brown and then simmer them for several hours in a red sauce until they are as tender as pot roast. Served over a bed of pasta, the meat is indistinguishable from any other that has been slow-cooked.
I treat doves pretty much the same as waterfowl. I brine them in a mild saltwater brine (1-quart water mixed with 1/4 cup each kosher or any coarse salt and brown sugar), but only for a couple of hours.Do keep in mind that it’s always best to keep a cooler handy in the field so that your freshly-killed birds aren’t piled up in a heap on a sweltering hot day. When the action is slow, I’ll crack open the cavities, removed the innards and place the birds in a cooler so that they are cooled quickly. After brining, pat them dry, season and grill, pan-sear or sauté for about 1 minute per side. If desired, give them a toss in your favorite marinade, but not so long that the only flavor you taste is marinade.If you’re fortunate enough to hunt in an area that’s been invaded by Eurasian Collared-Doves (and they’re legal to shoot), they taste just as good as mourning doves. They’re a bit larger, so marinate them for an hour or two longer.
Doves are also great skewered along with some vegetables, including hot peppers. When grilling, I like to give them a short soak in olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper. The olive oil encourages flare-ups on the grill and speeds up the browning process. Doves are also delicious when properly cooked in a smoker. When smoking whole birds, check the temperature at the center of the breast. When it reaches 130 to 135 degrees, pull them out, lightly tent with foil and let them rest for a few minutes before tearing into them. The resting part allows the juices to redistribute within the birds so that some folks don’t freak out if they’re not completely devoid of moisture. By the way, the red juices that are present in cooked meat isn’t blood. It’s mostly water and myoglobin (protein).
Here’s a mild marinade that works well withjust about any upland game, including doves. For dove breasts, marinate for 2 to 3 hours. If cooking whole doves, give it a couple hours more. And don’t get too far away from the grill, smoker or skillet. These birds cook quickly and I don’t want you to blame me if your overcooked doves don’t taste great. Of course, if you’re not nuts about them, you can always go back to bacon.
NOTE: If you like your meats a little spicy, add a minced jalapeno pepper to the marinade.
1/3 cup dry white wine
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
1/3 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 green onions, minced
1 tablespoon sugar
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup mixed fresh herbs, chopped
Combine all ingredients in a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Shake vigorously to blend flavors.