Originally living in cliffs and mountains, pigeons were docile birds that were easily tamed. They were domesticated over 5,000 years ago. The Egyptians kept large numbers of them and pigeon breeding has been thriving ever since, with two main goals: a pigeon provides meat for eating, but also has an ability to travel and always return to its birthplace, the pigeon loft.

In fact, the pigeon, like other migratory birds, has magnetite crystals in its brain which act as a sort of compass, allowing it to navigate and remember its location. It is this feature that led to the use of the "carrier" pigeon, capable of carrying messages, in all wars from the Roman times to the 20th century (16,500 English pigeons were dropped into France during World War II).

Pigeon lofts have always existed in great numbers, and in various shapes and sizes, around the world.

In France, Charlemagne made pigeon breeding the privilege of nobility (which lasted until the Revolution), forbidding farmers from raising and killing them. Logically, the consumption of pigeon was also reserved for nobles. This is why so many recipes date back to before the Revolution.

After the night of the abolition of feudalism, August 4, 1789, the number of dovecotes multiplied, and pigeons started to be raised more for meat than for carrying messages.

Pigeon fancying – the breeding and selection of breeds of pigeons – began to develop during the 19th century, and so breeding techniques improved. Carême, Ninon, and Escoffier all cooked pigeon.

Semi-industrial pigeons rearing for meat started in the U.S. in the 30s. It developed in France in the 50s, but remained a traditional craft.

Today, Asia (and especially China) is the largest producer of pigeon, with 400,000 pairs in cages.

Europe comes next, with France as the largest producer on the continent, with 700,000–800,000 pairs of pigeons distributed among 500–600 breeders.

The quality of a squab depends not only on its breed, but also on how it was raised and slaughtered. A stiff neck is a sign of a robust squab.

Pigeons from small farms are always better (because they have been given the proper food from their parents, plus seeds or pellets), as are those that were suffocated rather than bled.

After slaughter, the squabs are plucked: first mechanically, with a plucker, and then manually. A pigeon that has been properly plucked is a high-quality product.

They are then gutted and must be kept cold (1–5°C) for 24–48 hours, so that their flesh becomes tender before they are packaged and shipped in refrigerated transportation.

The slaughter date must be indicated on the packaging.

Fresh: whole or jointed (breast, baronnet [breast and leg], thighs, fillets, or spatchcocked). They can also be raw, stuffed, and ready to cook.

Frozen: whole or filleted.

Cooked: confit leg in duck fat, smoked fillets.

Before being cooked, a squab must be plucked and gutted, and its wings and feet cut.

If not eaten whole, it must be deboned.

It can be fried, baked, or braised, in a casserole, with a wine sauce, in salmis (stew) with the giblets, spatchcocked, in a pot-au-feu, in a ballotine. It can be stuffed with foie gras. Its legs can be made into confit in duck fat. A jus can be made from the carcass (see Basics).

It is traditionally accompanied by peas, but also cabbage, celery puree, mushrooms, autumn fruits and vegetables, or cherries when in season.

In Oriental cuisine, it is often used to make pastilla.

Before being cooked, a squab must be plucked and gutted, and its wings and feet cut.

If not eaten whole, it must be deboned.

It can be fried, baked, or braised, in a casserole, with a wine sauce, in salmis (stew) with the giblets, spatchcocked, in a pot-au-feu, in a ballotine. It can be stuffed with foie gras. Its legs can be made into confit in duck fat. A jus can be made from the carcass (see Basics).

It is traditionally accompanied by peas, but also cabbage, celery puree, mushrooms, autumn fruits and vegetables, or cherries when in season.

In Oriental cuisine, it is often used to make pastilla.

Pigeon meat is rich in protein and iron, and low in fat. It contains plenty of B vitamins. However, as it is not eaten often, it does not make much of a contribution towards a balanced diet.