I've really never hidden my adoration for D'Artagnan products. I've used their demi-glace and duck fat for years now, I've had the white and black truffle butters gracing the inside of my fridge door, sure they use a mixture of truffle oil (sure it's really 2,4-dithiapentane - I know - I know!) and shaved truffle slices (which are likely tuber aestivum and not likely to be tuber melanosporum) but I don't really care it tastes like heaven and more than a little earth on a slice of toasted Iggy's Francese for breakfast.
I buy their duck breast and my freezer has a supply of their confit and a saucisson l'ail all ready for cassoulet season. I've made their wild boar before, but this week at John Dewar I noticed a few new items in the case. I was torn between the pheasant, the rabbit and the guinea fowl and since I have tasted both rabbit and pheasant before I decided the guinea fowl would win.
When I got home I started flicking through my cookbooks, Hugh Fearnley Whitingstall recommends a salmi preparation, Anne Willan braises hers with cabbage and bacon, Julia didn't seem to have any thoughts which surprised me, but I was looking up guinea fowl and not the French term for the bird which is pintade. None of the preparations really knocked my socks off but husband and I were heading off to the Topsfield Fair for the day so I grabbed Anne Willan's new book Country Cooking of France and D'Artagnan's Glorious Game Cookbook and put them in the truck. As we headed home back down 128 in Friday traffic I had husband read me the recipes from both books. In the end, we decided on the Guinea Hen Two ways from D'Artagnan. Besides, I was halfway there already since I already had garlic confit in the fridge.
Guinea hen and Guinea fowl can be used interchangeably for either the male of the female of the species. They have 50% less fat than chickens which is visibly noticeable when you look at the legs the skin layer is so thin that you can see through to the dark, almost blue, meat right through it. They are a bird that likes to be left alone. The peck and poke for their own food, they don't take kindly to laying their eggs where you can find them, they prefer to sleep on the highest branches of the tree and they are a mighty, mighty loud alarm clock,screeching loudly when threatened or when they feel their territory has been invaded. They also aren't the most attractive of bird, certainly not as cute as this guy from the Topsfield Fair.
Okay, shall we make dinner?
Follow that link above and make yourself some garlic confit.
Slice 3 lemons, thinly, and place these in a non-reactive pot with 2 quarts of water and 2 TBS of salt, and add 20 or so peeled garlic cloves. Set this on high and boil until the water evaporates stirring occasionally. When it becomes just a sludge of disintegrated lemon essence and garlic, add 1 cup of cream, or more to taste depending on how tart your lemons are, and season with pepper, no salt will be necessary. Keep it warm.
Salt and pepper your rinsed and dried guinea fowl inside, rub 1 TBS of duck fat on the outside and salt and pepper the outside. Place it on its side in a roasting pan. Roast it in a 400 degree oven for 20 minutes. While it roasts, dice a carrot and an onion. After 20 minutes, flip the bird, add up to 1 TBS duck fat to the pan and toss in the onion and carrot. Return the pan to the oven for a further 20 mins.
Remove the pan from the oven. Cut off the legs and tent the breast with foil to keep warm. Return the legs to the pan, now on the stove top, and cook over medium-high heat to crisp up and finish the legs. Be careful to not burn your aromatics. When the legs are ready, remove those from the pan, tent them with foil and keep them warm. Now you will build your second sauce.
Deglaze your pan with 5 ounces of ruby port scraping up all the good sticky, shmooie bits as you go. Add 1/4 cup of cream and bring it to a nice bubbling boil. Tip all this carefully into a blender (works better than a food processor if you have a choice, the blender creates a nice vortex and will pulverize everything more efficiently), add your garlic confit (I must have had about 15 cloves), place the cover on the blender and loosen the center cap, just before I run the blender I tilt it to allow some air in so that the top doesn't blow off from the heat. Puree this until smooth and then strain it through a chinois or a double mesh strainer. Return it to a small clean pan and season to taste with salt and pepper.
I carved off the breast meat , sliced it thinly and arranged it over a small pool of the port sauce with a bit more on top. I placed the leg leaning on a pile of mashed potato with celeriac and sitting in a pool of the lemon sauce. Yea folks, I know boring composition, no colour, but I wasn't going to make a green veg just to please the eye, this was all we wanted. I drank a bottle of this with it, and yes, I did eventually wipe the dust off the bottle, I've had it awhile.
So in the end, how was it? Unbelievably good. The guinea fowl has amazing big flavor and because the fat layer under the skin is so thin the skin crisps up nicely. It has a mild gamey taste and the two sauces play nicely off of that. Husband was making happy food noises as he was eating and we both declared that this dish is a repeat. Now I know that you'll go look at the $21.00 price tag for a 3 - 4 pound guinea hen and scoff and decide it's too much money but this meal could have been served in any restaurant easily as a $36.00 entree per person and you certainly wouldn't call that too pricey. Add that bottle of wine that I paid $28.00 for and you would be paying $75.00 - $80.00 for after the markup and I call this meal a bargain. I even froze the rest of the lemon sauce, Chef Jan taught me to freeze everything, it can always be turned into something else later. I assure you her mantra has been a lifesaver.
Seek it out, cook it and love it.