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What Is Squab?

Squab is the culinary term for young pigeons.
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  • Written By: Niki Foster
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
  • Last Modified Date: 20 September 2014
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Squab is the culinary term for young pigeons. While many modern cultures consider squab an unusual or exotic dish, it has a long history. Pigeons have been raised domestically for centuries. There are records of squab being eaten in Ancient Egypt and Rome. Squabs are killed for food about a month after birth, when they have attained adult size, but have not yet flown.

Squab originally referred to the meat of all dove and pigeon species, some of which were once game animals, but today the term is typically limited to domestic pigeons. In the medieval era, it became popular for estates to feature a dovecote, a small building in which pigeons or doves could nest, allowing the estate owners ready access to the birds' eggs and meat. Dovecotes are still used in some areas today, and may be referred to as colombiers or pigeonniers, particularly in French-speaking or historically French-speaking areas.

Squab is a rich, moist dark meat similar to duck. It is tender, lean, and milder than most game fowl. Commercially raised meat is more tender than that of traditionally raised squabs, and therefore has a shorter cooking time and can be used in a wider variety of dishes. Squab features fewer pathogens than many other kinds of poultry, and can be served medium to well done. Squabs do not produce much meat per bird, and most of the meat is found in the breast.

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Today, squab meat is most popular in traditional French and Chinese cuisines, as well as in North Africa. The bird is often served deep fried as part of celebratory or holiday meals in Chinese and Chinese-American culture. They may be sold live or dressed. Squabs dressed in Chinese-style, or Buddhist slaughter, retain their heads and feet, while those dressed New York-style or Confucian slaughter retain their entrails as well. Squab is one of the most expensive types of poultry, because of both its rarity, and the relatively small amount of meat per bird.

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