Guineafowl originate in Africa and were first bred for meat by the Ancient Egyptians and was very popular in the ancient world – there is an infamous Greek dish called mattye where a guineahen would be killed by a knife plunged into its head via the beak. It would then be poached with lots of herbs, and its own chicks! They seemed to fall out of favour for a good while before being reintroduced by the Portuguese in the sixteenth century.
These days, guineafowl are more popular in France than the UK, being a popular ornamental fowl in farms, small holdings and rural households. They double as an excellent guard dog; getting very vocal at any approaching fox or indeed, postman. ‘The first time I saw guineafowl, they were humped along the roof ridge of a French farmhouse’, says Jane in her introduction to this recipe. I have similar memories from my science days when I would go on the annual field trip with the zoology undergraduates of Manchester University to the foothills of the French Alps, where guineafowl would toddle about decoratively with their black-and-white suits, blue combs bobbing, like a little fat harlequin.
I think guineafowl are delicious, they have a mild gamey flavour, lying somewhere between chicken and pheasant. It’s often braised as it has a tendency to dry out when roasted. In this recipe however, dryness is skilfully averted by covering the fowls with bacon or strips of pork back fat and the use of a good sausagemeat stuffing. Because of its gaminess, it is often served with the trimmings associated with roast game, such as game chips, #123 Bread Sauce and #114 Quince Jelly. See #122 Roast Pheasant for more on the subject.
Get hold of two guineafowl, both weighing 1 ½ to 2 pounds. Sit them on the board to get to room temperature as you get on with the stuffing.
Remove the skin from four ounces of good quality sausages (go to butcher who makes his or her own or make your own: see #415 Cumberland Sausages). Break up the meat and add the rest of the ingredients: a heaped tablespoon of breadcrumbs, one tablespoon each of brandy and port, a heaped tablespoon of chopped parsley, a crushed clove of garlicand salt and pepper. If you are lucky enough to find fowl with their giblets, find the liver, remove the gall, chop and add to the stuffing.
Mix everything well but keep things quite loose – you don’t want to compress the stuffing, as it will turn out stodgy. Divide it loosely between the two birds.
Now prepare the birds themselves by laying six rashers of unsmoked streaky bacon over the breasts and legs. This stops the birds from drying out in the oven. Again, buy good quality dry-cured bacon, not the cheap stuff that shrinks shedding its added water as white milky froth. Instead of bacon, you could use thin slices of pork back fat; it’s certainly cheaper, and it probably keeps the birds more moist, but doesn’t taste half as good. Pros and cons innit?
Put them in a roasting tray and pop them in an oven preheated to 220°C. Fifteen minutes later, turn down the heat to 200°C, and leave the birds roasting for 30 minutes. At this point, remove them from the oven, take off their little porky jackets and dust them with well-seasoned flour. Baste and pop back into the oven for a final 10 to 15 minutes.
Remove the birds and keep them under foil on a board whilst you make the gravy in the tin they were roasted.
Get the roasting tin over a medium heat and pour in a glass of port (2 to 3 fluid ounces, approx.). Use a wooden spoon to scrape the delicious dark-brown almost burned bits from base of the tin. Add ½ pint of stock – again, if there were giblets in the birds, you could make giblet stock, otherwise use chicken stock. Reduce this mixture down until you have a small volume of intensely-flavoured gravy. Don’t strain it and lose all those nice burnt bits!
Carve the guineafowl and serve with the gravy and bacon. Jane recommends serving it with #262 Chestnuts as a Vegetable. We served it with the food that was in the house: roast carrots, quinoa and some lovely indigo-dark purple kale.
#427 Roast Guineafowl. I feel so lucky to have things like this just hanging about in the freezer! The cooking method laid out by Jane was spot-on, as she usually is when it comes to roasting (however, see #359 Rabbit and #393 Hare); meat was lovely and moist. The gravy too was delicious, and the stuffing well-seasoned with a good garlic hit, making it taste very un-English; it must be based on a French farcemeat from one of Jane’s many trips to the country. Very, very good: 9/10