Wednesday, September 15, 2010
Guinea fowl makes a great alternative to chicken for a warming dinner on an autumn night. It has a lovely flavour that is slightly gamey but very subtle (much less assertive than pheasant or grouse). It can be magnificent when cooked simply or when combined with more robust flavours.
The guinea fowl is native to West Africa and is known to have been a part of the diet of the ancient Egyptians. It appears in Roman mosaics but did not become widely eaten in Europe until the Portuguese began importing the birds from Guinea (their colony) in the sixteenth century. Guinea fowl then spread quickly across western and northern Europe and have been reared for the table in this country since Elizabethan times.
Guinea fowl are an important food throughout much of Africa, south of the Sahara, and are found in every region of the world. France, Belgium and Italy are amongst the largest producers in Europe.
A small bird related to the chicken and partridge, guinea fowl include four or five species, the most common being Numida meleagris.
Guinea fowl are hardy birds that forage for food and so are often farmed in free-range or semi-wild facilities where they also perform a valuable pest control function. They have an acute awareness of predators and so are valued for their role as a 'watchdog', alerting farmers to any henhouse intrusions. It is reported that they have the ability to distinguish between farmers' family members and strangers.
Guinea fowl meat is high in protein and low in cholesterol. It is a good source of vitamin B6, selenium and niacin.
Look for free-range guinea fowl, rather than intensively-reared birds. Many butchers sell free-range guinea fowl imported from France.
Guinea fowl eggs are excellent and worth buying if you see some.
With giblets removed, a whole guinea fowl will keep in the fridge for 3 or 4 days.
Guinea fowl is prepared in much the same way as chicken. As it is generally a smaller bird, cooking methods that help retain moistness are recommended (e.g. pot roasting or casseroling). Barding or regular basting are advisable when roasting guinea fowl. Legs and wings are also excellent if marinated for a few hours before grilling.
The name of the common species of guinea fowl, meleagris, comes from a story in Greek mythology. Meleager, prince of Macedon, was killed by his mother after murdering his uncles. Meleager's sisters, weeping in grief, are turned into guinea-hens and their tears form the pearl-shaped markings found on the bird's feathers.