Move over Cornish Game Hen, here’s a tiny bird
that’s a whole lot tastier…”
By Rachel S. Thurston
Food And Home Magazine
“You’re writing a story about Squab?” a friend lifts her eyebrow with piqued curiosity. “Are those the people who live without electricity and make quilts all day?” Not exactly. Nor is a squab a vegetable or Sasquatch’s girlfriend. A few clues: it’s small, it’s of the aviary persuasion and it tastes mighty fine drizzled with fig balsamic vinegar or roasted with fresh garlic. To put it bluntly? Squab is a young pigeon and, according to gluttons around the world, it’s absolutely divine if cooked right.
Squab is adored by the French, and the Chinese believe that it’s not only tasty but signifies good luck (even if it was one of the last dishes served on the fated Titanic). In the United States, it was a favored dish among the Hollywood elite of the 1920s and 30s, gracing tables at restaurants like Romanoff’s and The Brown Derby. Even the Old Porter Hotel of Santa Barbara had its own “squaberia” to support the tastes of its wealthy guests.
Just a stone’s throw from here, third generation squab rancher Gary Carpenter is carrying on the family business his grandfather began in 1921. Today, he tends to nearly 16,000 pigeons at Carpenter Squab Ranch near Ojai and supplies Asian restaurants as well as refined gourmet restaurants throughout the country.
Despites its lip-smacking virtues, Carpenter explains that squab tends to be an elitist food because it’s expensive and easy to overcook. In the 1950s it was often replaced on menus with Cornish Game Hen—which, contrary to popular belief, is not a hybrid but is actually just a small chicken. “It’s a type of hoax that people believe Cornish game hen is different from chicken,” he says.
Squab tastes entirely different from chicken. It’s a dark meat, a bit like duck but finer textured. Because Carpenter’s squabs are farm-raised and never fly, they tend to be more tender than wild poultry. Chef and owner John Downey of Downey’s in Santa Barbara is renowned for his squab dishes and waxes eloquent whenever the bird’s name is brought up, “If done properly, it’s the tastiest, tenderest bird that just melts in your mouth.”
Downey pauses for a moment as if these words have failed to embrace the true sensation of experiencing the dish. Finally satisfied, he laughs and says, “It’s a shame to die and not to have tasted a squab.”
So before it’s too late…
To taste the succulent little bird, you can check out one of Santa Barbara’s restaurants which feature squab or you can bravely venture forth to where few amateur cooks have gone before and call Carpenter Squab Ranch at 969-0788 to order the one pound birds which cost $5 each. For recipes go to: www.food-home.com