Guinea hens, pheasant and squab
In the past few weeks the Holiday Season has seen us sitting down to all sorts of dinners, and chances are more than once the featured attraction has been a bird of some kind. And as Chef Jerry Pellegrino points out there's a lot more available than just good old chicken and turkey.
The first that comes to mind is the Guinea Fowl (hen), the beautiful bird whose grey speckled feathers look as if designed by Bill Blass. Called the "pintade" in France (where they've perfected cooking it) the Guinea Fowl can be approached almost exactly like chicken, which it closely resembles. In the butcher shop, the meat appears to be alarmingly dark and unappealing, but it cooks to a very light shade. In fact the flesh could be considered to be "white meat", which means you have to be careful not to dry it out. Cooking in a closed container, basting or barding with bacon are options. Cooking in rotisserie fashion is the traditional French method, but be careful to do a lot of basting while the bird is rotating around.
No matter how you cook it the flavor is richer and more concentrated than chicken, with little or no "gaminess" to speak of. In short, it is fabulous.
Pheasant, which can be ordered through a specialty butcher, presents the cook with the problem of delicious white meat that is regrettably quite dry. Much has been made of the practice of "hanging" the pheasant, i.e., allowing a controlled spoilage to soften the bird. If you don't know exactly what you're doing, you need to let your butcher handle this dicey aging technique. Once you get the plucked carcass home, consider marinating it overnight. It will help with the moisture problem. Roasting is the traditional cooking method. It goes very quickly, say 30-40 minutes in a 350 degree oven. Remove the wings from the bird, since they have no meat and crowd up against the breast. Frequent basting with your (boiled) marinade and barding with bacon work very well. Prick the flesh, and it is done when the juice runs clear.
Squab are specially raised small pigeons, only about 4 weeks old. Their flesh is dark and delicately flavored, and for once, does not taste like chicken. Squab meat is very moist, and the breast skin covers a generous layer of fat. Nearly every recipe we found suggests browning the bird on all sides, in a skillet, before otherwise cooking it. Take care not to overcook your squab, since it takes on a liver-like flavor. Because it is a small, dark fleshed bird, it responds well to fast, high temperature cooking. Easily available on-line.
Roast Guinea Fowl with Chesnut, Sage and Lemon Stuffing
· 1 small guinea fowl , about 1kg
· 8 rashers streaky bacon
· 50g soft butter
· 1 onion , unpeeled and thickly sliced
· 2 tbsp plain flour
· 350ml strong chicken stock
· cranberry sauce, roast potatoes and vegetables , to serve
For the stuffing
· 1 onion , chopped
· 25g butter
· 1 tbsp chopped sage
· 50g walnut , finely chopped
· 50g breadcrumb
· zest 2 lemons
· ¼ tsp ground mace
· 100g cooked chestnut , quartered
· 1 medium egg , beaten with a fork
· STEP 1
First make the stuffing. Soften the onion in the butter very gently, then stir in the sage and cook for 2 mins more. Scrape into a bowl with the chopped walnuts, breadcrumbs, lemon zest, mace, chestnuts and egg and mix together well. Season generously.
· STEP 2
For the guinea fowl, wash and wipe out the inside cavity. Mix the butter with some seasoning, then push and spread some under the skin over the breasts, and rub the rest over the legs. Lay the bacon across the breasts, smoothing over, and season with some more pepper. Push the stuffing into the cavity (any extra can be rolled into balls and baked in the oven for the last 20 mins cooking time). You can cover and chill the guinea fowl now for up to 24 hours.
· STEP 3
To roast, bring the bird out of the fridge 30 mins before. Heat oven to 200C/180C fan/gas 6. Sit the bird in a snug roasting tin with the sliced onion underneath. Roast
for 15 mins, then lower the oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4 and roast for a further 35-45 mins for a 1kg bird (or longer if bigger – use the timings for a roast chicken). Check the bird is done by piercing the inside of the thigh with a knife and making sure the juices are clear, not bloody. Lift the guinea fowl off the onions, onto a platter. Loosely cover with foil, top with a towel (to keep it warm), and rest while you make the gravy.
· STEP 4
Pour off the juices from the roasting tray into a jug or bowl, and allow to settle. Spoon a tbsp of the fat on top back into the roasting tray, pop on the hob over a low heat (make sure your roasting tray is suitable or transfer contents to a pan), and stir in the flour until it isn’t dusty anymore. Gradually stir in the stock, plus any meat juices after you’ve discarded the rest of the fat, and bubble gently until thickened. Season with salt, pepper, and pinches of sugar if it needs it, then strain into a gravy jug and discard the onions. Serve with the guinea fowl, spooning out the stuffing as you carve, plus cranberry sauce and plenty of vegetables.