Much Ado About Guria – The Victoria Crowned Pigeon

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I’ve seen a lot of stuff percolating on the web recently about the “amazing” Victoria Crowned Pigeon. Well, I’m here to tell you today, friends and neighbors, that that are absolutely delicious. However, before we get into recipes, let’s have a look at this morning’s rapturous sunrise:No, I wasn’t “taken up” or anything like that, but I do think the sky may have rolled back a little at the corners. Better be safe than sorry.

So, setting off to fulfil a promise to some Facebook friends to unveil the secrets of the aforementioned pigeon, which, by the way is the largest pigeon on this planet (frankly, I’ve seen larger on other planets – I’m only visiting here, you see), I walked over to a rather large and pretentious hotel where an impressive flock of our huge, magnificent flying rats abide. As luck would have it, some enormously fat dignitaries were arriving for some sort of mighty pow-wow and a small, timid group of local Sing Sing performers had gathered to present their modest contribution to the pompous festivities:One of them was about to offer me a pillowcase full of Mary Jane for K20 when I reckoned that I’d had enough of the war paint and decided to begin my stalk for the rare Goura victoria.

I didn’t have to stalk far. They are, after all, merely chicken-sized pigeons. Yeah, they’re pretty, but they’re still just pigeons. If you get enough of them together in one place and don’t overly molest them, they’ll multiply until you can’t swing a dead cat without knocking the top-knot off of one of these haughty buzzards:The Tok Pisin  name for these fat show-offs is guria,  which, oddly enough, is the same word for earthquake. For a long time I thought that the coincidental monikers was because of the deep booming noise that the males make when giving the come-on to their lady friends. As it turns out, when I looked up the taxonomic name, the genus is, of course, Goura,  which explains the sameness of the words. Or does it? I asked three local people today why they call the pigeon the same thing that they call the earthquake. The all looked at me as if I were stupid, something that you get used to very quickly here. “Because they make that earthquake sound when they are . . . you know . . . laikim meri.”  (That’s a polite way of saying, well . . . you know.) So, the mystery remains. [See UPDATE at the bottom of the post.]

Anyway, my first contact with a G. victoria  was at the National Zoo in Washington DC. Our son, Hans, of tender years, proclaimed it the most magnificent of God’s critters. We were inclined to agree. The next time that we came in contact with G. Victoria  was in a dugout canoe motoring up the Clay River  in the Sepik area. On that occasion, we stopped briefly at the river side where the canoe driver’s wife, with little ceremony, wrung the neck of a G. victoria  which she had caught in a snare. Hans was stricken. We had to remind him that to our guests, the wondefulest pigeon is just a hunk of meat.

Here’s a Sharp Dressed Man  (ZZ Top is playing now) jazzing it up in hopes of getting lucky:She didn’t look very interested. I didn’t stick around to watch.

In case you think we’re running short of Victoria Crowned Pigeons, I snapped this shot to show you a small platoon of them out foraging for the local farmers’ crops:Their apetites are voracious. They’ll eat fruit, berries, nuts, flying fox feces (a bit like jam, actually), small dogs and pretty much anything including rocks.

Oh, I nearly forgot the recipe. Here’s my favourite: (Sorry about the non-metric measurements. I was educated, if that’s what you could call it, where “The Metric System” is considered a despised foreign influence.)

The beauty of Goura victoria  is that it cooks so quickly. The meat, richly flavored and all dark, is at its succulent best when rare. To get good browning, this means the birds have to cook at high heat – which introduces a problem. The fatty layer under the skin drips and smokes in the oven or catches fire on the barbecue. The solution: grill over indirect heat. If parts of the Goura victoria  get quite dark before birds are done, drape affected areas with foil.

MadDog’s Honey-Thyme Goura victoria

Yield: Makes 12 servings

Ingredients

  • 4  medium Goura victoria  (5 lb. each)
  • 24  tablespoons  balsamic vinegar
  • 12  tablespoons  honey
  • 8  teaspoons  fresh thyme leaves or dried thyme
  • Salt

Preparation

1. With poultry shears or kitchen scissors, cut each Goura victoria  in half through center of breast and back. Pull off and discard fat lumps. Cut off necks and reserve with giblets for other uses. Rinse birds and pat dry. I recommend that you remove the feathers before starting all this. I guess I should have mentioned that earlier.

2. In a bowl, mix vinegar, honey, and thyme. Add Goura victoria  and mix to coat with seasonings. Let stand at least 20 minutes or chill, covered, up to 1 day, turning pieces over several times.

3. Prepare barbecue for indirect heat.

If using charcoal, mound and ignite 60 briquets on the firegrate of a barbecue with a lid (20 to 22 in. wide). When briquets are dotted with gray ash, in about 15 minutes, push equal portions to opposite sides of the firegrate. Place a drip pan between coals. Set the grill in place.

If using a gas barbecue, cover and turn heat to high for about 10 minutes. Adjust burners for indirect cooking (no heat down center) and keep on high. Set a drip pan beneath grill between ignited burners. Set grill in place.

4. Lift Goura victoria  from marinade and lay, bones down, in center of grill, not directly over the heat. Cover barbecue and open the vents.

5. Cook until birds are richly browned, basting Goura victoria  frequently with marinade, using it all. For rare, breasts are moist and red in center (cut to test); allow about 25 minutes. For medium, cook 6 to 10 minutes longer. Season to taste with salt.

Oh yes, I nearly forgot. Save the top-knots for table decorations. If you have enough, guests can stick them in their hair and pretend to be pigeons.

Em Tasol!  (That’s all!)

UPDATE: Facebook friend Justin Friend (funny coincidence, that) just left me a message saying:

My understanding of the name Guria pigeon, is based on the way they almost shiver and all their feathers shake and vibrate as they do it, and that the Genus name was actually a direct link to the name “Guria” when they were first described in New Guinea, having heard the birds described as “Guria” when they do that shiver-shake thing…..but I could be wrong….but thats my understanding…. and give me a good ‘ol BBQ Tree Kangaroo over a BBQ Pigeon any day!

Thanks for that very nice clarification, Justin.

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16 Responses to “Much Ado About Guria – The Victoria Crowned Pigeon”

  1. Steve Goodheart Says:

    Jan, your post almost seems to take a glee in the fact that one can kill and eat these beautiful animals.

    What’s with that?

    Tell me if I’m wrong, but what came across was, “What’s all the fuss about these beautiful animals? You think they are beautiful? Well, we eat them. Ha, ha!”

    Am I supposed to be horrified or cheer at how tough-minded we can be about killing, or what?

    I think your dear little Hans’ response will always be closer to how evolved human beings feel about killing anything, even if meat is of necessary part of most human’s diet.

  2. MadDog Says:

    Steven, you’re obviously not familiar with the Don Rickles school of humour.

    If I were hungry enough, of course I would eat one. Many people here are hungry.

    I’d be a fool to think that everybody thinks everything that I write which I intend to be funny is actually perceived by the reader as funny.

    For me, eating a Goura victoria would be like grinding up a diamond and swallowing it because I have a carbon deficiency.

    Nevertheless, I found it funny, in a twisted way, as I was writing it. The reader’s mileage may vary.

  3. Steve Goodheart Says:

    Thanks for your explanation. I always give my friends the benefit of the doubt, and I did you. But, still, being a true friend, I had to ask. Thanks.

  4. Kevin Says:

    As a callow youth of 21 years, I arrived at my first PNG posting of Kikori in 1961. I was welcomed by a couple of Ag. Officers who invited me to dinner the first night. The meal was delicious and I asked what the bird was and the reply was Guria Pidgeon.
    I was a bit shocked as I knew that they were protected birds, however the Ag. boys explained that they shot it in self defence as it swooped them gnashing its sharp teeth.

    I fell for the story including the teeth bit.

  5. MadDog Says:

    No harm, no foul, mate. I’m always prepared to explain my drivel.

    I got so wrapped up in my sarcasm that I forgot to make my point, or failed to make it clear.

    It seems to me hypocritical and wrong-minded to put living things in to anthropocentric categories such as beautiful, cute, cuddly or nasty, ugly and other such terms, especially when considering our menus. Meat eaters have no compunctions about eating a chicken, but we have some incredibly beautiful chickens here. So, we’d eat an ugly, white chicken, but not one with splendid, colourful plumage? Lots of people eat Peacocks, while others would find that idea repugnant. Have you seen what they do to Guinea Pigs in South America? I’ve eaten tree kangaroo, one of the most darling little critters imaginable, with a stick run through it from one end to the other and held over the fire while its fur burned off. What a stecnch! However, I was obliged to eat it as I was a guest of honour and it was my obligation.

    My intent was to horrify through humour – thus the recipe – and expose the ridiculous dietary choices made on the basis of the anthropocentric classifications of animals into “too pretty to eat” and “it’s homely – I’m hungry!”

    Don’t get me started on the modern beauty standards applied to women. I think that the fashion industry, in general, has done more harm to women than anything since the invention of the wooden club.

  6. MadDog Says:

    Very nice story, Kevin. It’s so typical of life as it is here. People aren’t supposed to molest birds of paradise either, but where to all those fancy sing-sing feathers come from? Do we honestly think that the throw the flesh into the rubbish bin?

    The “self-defense” ploy is likewise comical. It reminds me of the old movie, The Birds. Can you imagine a thousand G. Victoria storming in, slashing with their hooked beaks, snatching with their silly pink claws, blood-red eyes glaring and leaving behind only a pile of white bones? I guess that there might be some justice in that – very funny justice.

  7. Steve Goodheart Says:

    MadDog, quick response. Actually, I totally groked that that was what you were getting at, and that’s why I didn’t take umbrage and jump to conclusions. I couldn’t agree more about the hypocrisy in what you say, and how cultural some of this stuff is. Still, I don’t buy a total cultural relativism either, as in the point you make later about women’s beauty fashion…, or worse, things like female “circumcision” which some yahoos would make supposedly above critique because it’s part of some stone-age cultural belief of an ethnic or religious group. Ditto, this critique applies to slavery by those same people.

    But, don’t have time to say more right now, but that I appreciate the point you are making.

  8. MadDog Says:

    It’s all a part of my “attack by savage sarcasm” plan. Some people aren’t bright enough to get it. Or worse, some whacko might think that I’m agreeing with him. It is a chance that writers have to take.

    You were rightly suspicious because we’ve not known each other long – not at all, really, except through our web personae.

    I could be an axe murderer!

  9. Colin Huggins Says:

    Jan!!!!!!!!!!!

    Surely you “jest” with the ” jam tasting bit”!!!!!

    “Their appetites are voracious. They’ll eat fruit, berries, nuts, flying fox feces (a bit like jam, actually), small dogs and pretty much anything including rocks.”

    Thank God I had finished my blackberry jam on toast for breakfast when I switched to read your latest reports! I am not sure that I will be able to face that “blackberry” or for that matter any other jams for some time!

    I think in an early response on your blog I wrote something about my loathing of flying foxes and now this!

    I never saw any birds like that when I was in PNG. Remarkable looking creatures.

    I hope you are now much better? Maybe, you ate the wrong JAM??

    Cheers
    Colin

  10. MadDog Says:

    Oh, Colin, you really do play a good straight man. We could do a great Abbot and Costello routine.

    I have given careful consideration to Flying Fox feces on several occasions, having been bombarded by it many times. The truth is that it does smell fruity, this being their only diet, and has the appearance, dare I say it, of blackberry jam. Actually, it’s a bit more yellowish, probably reflecting their ravenous apetite for papaya.

    I just know, that someday, on a particularly zany day, when I’m bored out of my skull and a flying fox gifts me with a present from the sky, that I’m going to sneak a taste. I can almost promise it.

    Stay tuned.

    By the way, I am feeling better, even more so because I was not swept away by a tsunami when we spent night at the beach on Saturday. It simply didn’t seem to matter, so we just built a bonfire and drank red wine until we all got tired and fell asleep. Such is the life of the expatriate, as I’m sure you know.

  11. The Birds! | Madang - Ples Bilong Mi Says:

    […] this outrageous, world’s largest pigeon here before, so regular readers will recognise the Victoria Crowned Pigeon (Goura victoria):This one is pecking madly at a Star Fruit freshly fallen from the […]

  12. Ali Says:

    Marinated Koala kebabs would be nice with some of that Flying Fox Chutney I reckon!
    “Wild, Cute, Food”…..Mmmmmm, bring it on!
    (what a catchy name for a new wave restaurant)

    Bon appetite!

  13. MadDog Says:

    Ali, I’m glad you caught the sarcasm. I’d hate to be taken seriously.

    Flying Fox feces as chutney – I hadn’t thought of it that way. Might work. I’ll have to try it.

    I dig the restaurant name. If I only had the capital . . .

  14. Ali Says:

    Might just have started something here Jan????
    My closest civilization is the tiny town of Somerset Dam. It’s a village really, with a population of 60 and nothing more than a hall, the dam wall itself, a tiny shop that sells everything from postage stamps to wine and the little “Catchment Cafe”.
    I digress, how unusual….!
    This year, there was a bumper crop of wild mangos in the village. The profusion of fruit brought the fruit bats cockatoos & rainbow lorikeets in plague proportions and they nearly drove everyone insane with their 24 hour screeching, squabbling, feeding and poo-ing frenzies.
    Mango Madness was upon us all and those who were not out picking mangos or cleaning the slimy, orange bat-bombs and cocky-poo-pickles off everything, were inside brewing, bottling and labeling the “Best Dam Chutney” around.
    It was a real winner and became popular at the cafe, as well as on everyones table in the district. (whether they liked it or not!)
    It was the 2010 Somerset “Glut of Chut”
    Alas, the mango season is over but the passionfruit and olives are peaking and the bats and birds are getting excited, as am I now, because your “Much Ado About Guria”- has inspired me.
    The Somerset Dam Backyard Batty Bottlers Association shall be back in business with some new labels for Winter.
    “Fruit Bat Pesto” with a splash of chili.
    “Parrot Passion Jam”
    “Bat Bait” -(is still teetering on the cutting table )
    By the way, I am only joking about one thing….and that is the name of the Association. (but who knows, it too may catch on in time?)
    I shall certainly bring you a jar of 2010 “Mango Madness”!
    PS.
    I am open to all and any other Kooky yet Cool name suggestions, so let yourself go please!

  15. MadDog Says:

    Somerset Dam – a lot of murders there by any chance?

    All this talk of mango is making me itch. I’m extremely allergic to them. Apparently, it’s the sap from the tree that does the dirty business. I’ve been told that I can safely eat the interior as long as I don’t come into contact with the skin. Sadly, the very notion of it has thrown me off them.

    I’d never eaten a mango before coming here. There was a big tree in the back of our office which was brought from Rabaul sometime in the ’50s. It was known for the best mangos in town. They were long and had a sort of hook shape at the bottom. I once went to the back yard and gathered an armful of them, smelling wonderful and tasting just as good. Within hours my eyes swelled shut, I broke out in hives and had trouble breathing.

    I’ll accept your offer of a jar, which I will put in the MadDog Museum for consumption when I’m told that I have but one day left to live. I’m sure that it will be delicious.

    I don’t have a clever name for you, but I would suggest a disclaimer for your label.

    “To prevent the possibility of death by anaphylactic shock, please smear a small dab of this chutney on your wrist and wait for 12 hours to ascertain whether or not your arm remains attached to your body. If you suffer no ill effects, you can probably eat it safely”

    I’m a little jealous of your prolific bird life there. I’d love to see such parrot profusion from a safe distance. If they are a nuisance, I’d suggest that you invite a few hundred Papua New Guinean teenage boys to your area for a week or so. Provide them with all the surgical tubing, old inner tubes and forked sticks that they want. Your bird life will disappear down their gullets in a matter of days.

  16. Ali Says:

    Such a shame to be allergic to a delicious and abundant fruit.
    I like your disclaimer label for the chutney Jan.
    But for safety reasons, I should probably add that the allergy test needs be conducted indoors, to avoid turning the subject into a delicious target for the bats and birds. (If you survive the chutney allergy test, the critters might get ya)
    As for the birds, yes they are abundant and we just love ’em!
    The cockatoos are a bit of a nuisance at times and can become very destructive when there is not enough food about. They chew at external parts of the house and it seems that verandah railings are particularly tasty. They can also be aggressive and complain loudly which is a pain. Some locals use their own forked sticks and inner tube to ease that pain.. but I doubt any ever reach the cooking pot.
    We are also blessed with a lot of King Parrots here which apart from looking magnificent, have a particularly delightful personality. The Galah’s, Rainbow Lorikeets and Pale Headed Rosellas are everywhere and become very tame if you encourage them. I used to worry about eating rosella jam when I was a kid and felt SO guilty for loving it. I was so relieved to discover there is a fruit of the same name……..Pheew!
    As for the PNG kids and the birds, I guess that brings us back to the beginning and your story about those lovely GV pigeons.
    One mans pet is another mans dinner, eat the ugly and spare the beautiful etc
    and the beat goes on….