One day as I was reading my hometown newspaper I came across the reader’s Q and A section where someone asked the unlikely question “Does Anyone Know if Peacock Tastes Good”? I looked at it with some trepidation not knowing whether to reply. Answering it might have caused people to think I was part of some underground gourmet society like Brando and Broderick in the film The Freshman. But as a matter of fact I knew the answer to the question and the answer was “I do”!
On a recent trip to Italy, visiting our Italian cousins, we ate peacock at a friend’s house in Treviso, a Northern Italian city located in the Veneto. In Italy peacock is called pavone and prepared similar to pheasant. It was a Sunday afternoon and we were served a wonderful meal that lasted 4 hours at the country home of an Italian book editor who raised peacocks on his property. When we drove up to the fattoria (farm), that looked more like a villa, there were peacocks roaming the grounds. Little did I know they would be part of the afternoon meal. The meal consisted of several courses including a brodo make of peacock with nidi d’amore, little love nests of pasta filled with ground veal floating in the broth. This was followed by braised peacock, then goose and an Italian style meat loaf. Fantastici. The pavone meat was served on the bone and the legs were quite large, much bigger than a turkey. The meat was dark and very flavorful and did not taste gamey at all. In the beginning we were not told that we were eating peacock. I suppose our hosts weren’t quite sure how gli americani would react.
In Italy there is a culinary tradition of eating of all types of birds and although chickens, hens, capons and partridges were more commonly found at the table, eating peacock although not unheard of was reserved for the cultural elite. Served at lavish Renaissance banquets or at the dining tables of 16th century cardinals and popes, peacock was a popular center of the plate item among the aristocracy. The Italian scholar and cookbook author Platina, who dined with the Gonzagas in Renaissance Mantua, described peacock as “more suitable to the table of kings and princes than the lowly and men of little property”. Bartolomeo Scappi (1500-1577), cuoco segreto, private cook, to five pontiffs mentions roasted peacock as one of his favorite recipes often prepared with an extravagant use of spices. Once cooked, he suggests that the bird be reassembled with metal rods and have its feathers reattached come se fosse vivo, “as if it were still alive” for a spectacular display. The elaborate, ancient and eccentric preparations of peacock make eating it seem decadent and disturbing. Yet I felt neither during that meal in Treviso. It all seemed very natural and rustic and homey, sharing in the bounty of the family farm at the table with my Italian family and friends.
If you were wondering whether I answered the Q and A question in my hometown newspaper? I did. Did they publish it? No.