Having spent a happy day at the office eating crow*, I came home and ate rook. I didn't plan it, I was just in an effusive mood after buying some farm cider and on the table of the rather good game merchant there happened to be a pair of rook squabs. I'm a reasonable judge of birds having grown up on a bird farm and they looked good; nice texture, fine colour, and I was just curious, really. So I bought the rooks and stowed them in the work fridge (along with the cider) for the rest of the afternoon. Even better, I remembered to take them home.
Here's what I did with them:
squabs legs with celery and green chilli
Fill a small pot half full with a mixture of onion, celery and green chilli. Lay the skinned joints of a rook squab over, sprinkle with olive oil and savory, cover with more celery. Place in the oven for twenty minutes, then shake the dish to raise the meat to the top, and return for a further ten to colour the meat.
Pan fried spiced rook breasts with apricot
Place chopped apricots in brandy to plump. Cut away and skin the rook breasts, season, then set them on a plate and rub them with crushed garlic, fresh thyme, olive oil and lemon juice. Slowly cook onion in a heavy pan until it is translucent but not coloured. Raise the heat and add the skinned rook breasts, quickly brown them on either side, and then pour over the brandy, flame it, and add the apricots. Add a little few spoonfuls of stock or another suitable liquid, and slap the lid on while the steam from that gets into everything. Remove the lid, adjust and reduce the sauce -- I used a little honey and soy for that, which worked well.
I served it with spiced kidney beans and pink couscous.
Tim didn't really rate the legs -- very fiddly and a bit stringy, like old frogs legs, but we both agreed that the breast meat was excellent. I'd been told that it tasted a bit like pigeon, but more beefy, and I can't really improve on that as a description.
Rooks, along with acorns and goosegrass, are British famine food; google for rook recipes and they're often wartime pies of assorted grey meats, unappealing but filling. I was expecting something stringy and dull, good enough for stew, but nothing to go back to; something you'd eat once, to better understand ancestral privations.
But now I'm in a quandary. There's nothing wrong with rook. I could tell the moment I unwrapped the packet that it would be delicious, simply from the smell. It's good eating. But it's also British bush meat; food from the wild, unhusbanded, just taken. Now, certainly, the rooks will go again, and rooks are not endangered. But if everyone suddenly took to rook, neither of these facts would matter a whit. Rooks would sinply disappear, like a pale blue eye winking shut in the night.
So I'll probably not be making a habit of rook. But nevertheless I feel a certain satisfaction in extending my omnivory.
When Darwin was a young man, he used to take part in Phylum feasts, where they would try and eat the broadest range possible of different living things. Next year I'm planning on having a Darwinian feast of my own to mark Darwin day; but with a difference. It will start with Primordial Soup, then work its way along the tree of life to a specially shaped jelly, served with genetically modified fruit. But I don't think it'll include rook.
*Not really, although it is all a bit unsettled at the moment.