Grilled Doves with Smoked Paprika, Really?

Those of you who grew up with a hunter-gatherer father would know that dove season in the west is in the fall, around Labor Day. My father has hunted since he was a little boy, and at 85(?), he still goes each year to shoot doves with my brother in Yuma, Arizona. They would bring them home and we’d sit around a large garbage can to pluck over a hundred doves under the pepper tree in the backyard. It’s sticky business, but the reward is worth it.

All my life, I’ve eaten doves two ways: roasted, wrapped in bacon and stuffed with rice (back then it was wild rice and now we use sticky rice with Chinese sausage), or dredged in flour and pan-fried. My dad came to see me last weekend and he brought me a priceless gift—you guessed it—a frozen, vacuum-packed bag of 12 doves. Doves in June? No way! But it’s way too hot to be frying and roasting. Why not grill them?

I took them up to the end-of-the-year pool party we were invited to in Lafayette this weekend. After all, the invitation said: “Bring something to grill!” The question was whether I was willing to share with a dozen strangers. I seasoned them with smoked paprika, a little onion and garlic powder and a pinch of sea salt. I would have stuffed them with herbs but I didn’t have any! I basted them with pork belly fat that I had rendered from the last time I ate pork belly (not too long ago, I admit). I could have used the bacon fat that was in my cast-iron skillet from breakfast just as easily.

The grill was hot and we put them on. My host bravely turned them occasionally and I basted them now and again. One parent asked me: “How do you know when they are ready?” It’s not so much by the color. Remember, these are wild birds and so the meat is a deeper, darker crimson. You can tell by the texture of the meat. You don’t want it chewy. They will look redder than the average roasted meat, and when the meat is all gray, it’s definitely overcooked. It took about 20 to 30 minutes on this grill. And my daughter was worried I was going to embarrass her at the pool party today. My father’s doves were the life of the party. I did share, and I was proud to see so many guests sucking all the meat off the bone!