Pigeon tagine with dates and ginger

Pigeon tagine with dates and ginger

New Middle Eastern Food
Mark Roper

In the Middle East they get their pigeons live from the souks, and grill them over a hot barbecue. Elsewhere we have to make do with farmed variety — usually sold as squab, which are tender baby birds weighing 250–400 grams. Their rich, dark meat is delicious in this spicy sauce. The combination of pigeon and dates is a Persian and Moroccan favourite, although traditional recipes, which use large amounts of fruit, can be too sweet for western palates. Here, the sauce is spiced with pungent saffron and ginger, which help cut the sweetness and richness of the dish.

Pigeon stock


Quantity Ingredient
4 squab carcasses and trimmings
20ml olive oil
1 carrot, chopped
1 celery stick, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, roughly bashed
1 bay leaf
few sprigs thyme
2 tablespoons dry sherry
1.5 litres water


Quantity Ingredient
4 squab pigeons
100g butter
20ml olive oil
2 medium onions, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh black pepper
1/4 teaspoon powdered saffron
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
500ml water or pigeon stock
200g fresh dates, pitted and chopped
edible rose petals, fresh or dried (optional) and couscous or buttered rice, to serve


  1. Prepare the pigeons by cutting off heads, necks and claws, trimming the wings and then neatly slicing away the breasts and Marylands (thigh and drumstick) from each bird. If you don’t feel confident about preparing the pigeons yourself, ask your butcher to prepare them for you, and to keep the carcasses so you can make a stock.
  2. To make the stock, briefly sauté the carcasses in the oil to add colour, then add the vegetables, bay leaf and thyme and sauté for a few more minutes. Add the sherry and scrape any bits from the bottom of the pan. Pour the water over the top and bring to the boil. Skim off any surface fat, then lower the heat and simmer for 1 hour, skimming off any additional fat from time to time.
  3. To make the tagine, melt the butter and oil and fry the onions and garlic over a medium heat until softened. Add the pepper, saffron, cinnamon and ginger and stir well. Season the pigeon breast and Maryland pieces with salt and sauté in the spicy mixture for about 2 minutes, until they are well coated. Add the stock and bring to the boil. Lower the heat, cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Then add the chopped dates and stir in well. Cover again and simmer for a further 20–30 minutes, or until the pigeon pieces are nice and tender.
  4. Sprinkle over the rose petals, if using, taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Serve with plain buttered couscous or a simple rice pilaf.
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