Dry cured pigeon ham

13th April 2013

Following the earlier posts on preparing pigeon I was left with 4 pigeon breast fillets to find something to do with. One thing I have wanted to try for some time is curing wild meat, so this gave me the ideal opportunity. It’s possible to have cured ham in as little as 2-3 weeks.


The following is the procedure I followed but this was an experiment and although it worked I think it could be improved so I’ve made some recommended changes to the procedure at the end.


  • 4 Pigeon breast fillets
  • 700g table salt
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 5g salt petre
  • Handful of Douglas Fir Needles (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon of Hogweed seeds (optional)
  • 2 teaspoons of Tansy leaves (optional)
  • 3 tablespoons Birch Sap Syrup (optional or substitute maple syrup)
  • 100ml Red wine vinegar


1. Making the Cure

Roughly grind the Douglas Fir needles, Hogweed seeds and Tansy with pestle and mortar to release the flavour and mix with the salt, sugar and saltpetre.


2. Curing

Place half of the mixture into a plastic container, then place the pigeon breasts in a single layer on top of the dry cure mix and cover completely with the remaining mix. Place in a cool dark place (fridge is ideal) and leave for 6 days.


4. Removing Excess Cure

Remove the meat from the cure and rinse quickly in the red wine vinegar to remove any excess salt.


5. Air Drying

Hang in a cool, airy place.  In winter a cool shed or garage is fine, if not a fridge. If there is a risk of flies landing on the meat wrap in fine muslin cloth.


6. Smoking (optional)

Leave for another 6 days to air dry.  If you want to smoke the meat, place in a covered barbeque with a container of smouldering hard wood ships. Do not allow the chips to catch fire. Half an hour is more than adequate.


7. Glazing (optional)

Brush Birch Sap syrup (or similar) on to the smoked meat and allow to air dry in a cool, airy place for another few days.



If everything has worked you should now have some Birch Syrup glazed, smoked, dry-cured, air-dried pigeon ham!



Although, the process worked fine there are a few changes to the procedure that I would make next time. The finished result on this occasion, although perfectly cured is little salty, and dry and the smoke flavour is slightly too powerful.


To rectify this; Firstly, I would cure the pigeon for less time 3-4 days would be more than enough. This would reduced the saltiness and remove less moisture from the meat.  The smoking stage could be omitted, or just the lightest possible smoking to give just a hint of smokiness. I would also increase the flavourings in the cure if I repeated the smoking, as these were discernible when the ham was tasted prior to smoking but not after.

The key is to use this as a guide and have a play.  In this instance, the intense salty and smokey flavour of the finished product can still be used. Shaved finely, it can be used as an intense version of Parma ham and would go well with creamy cheese such as Mozarella etc.  In the dish below of pheasant leg confit, the ham was grated liberally over everything and acted as an incredible flavoured seasoning.  Once dried it will keep indefinately and used in this way you it should last a bit longer.

Confit of pheasant and beetroot julienne with a crab apple verjuice, wild pontack, birch syrup and truffle oil dressing on a bed of lamb’s lettuce sprinkled with air dried pigeon ham.


Kev Palmer

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