Not quite game, not quite chicken – guinea fowl should be on out plates all the time as it’s free range and inexpensive. With wild fungi in season.
Are guinea fowl game birds or poultry?
Guinea fowl is not related to guinea pig. The name similarity is coincidental: in the case of the little rodent, it possibly originates from its price, one guinea in the 16th and 17th century. The bird on the other hand is named after its homeland: West Africa, the part that used to be Guinea Coast.
I have always known guinea fowl were tasty but I didn’t realise what interesting birds they were. They fly and roost in the trees; they are better than a watchdog since they screech at the smallest disturbance; and generally like to make a racket running on the roofs of their pens or coops.
They are halfway between game and domestic poultry. Gamekeepers train them to come home for the night to roost, but the clever birds are mostly independent at finding their own food: grubs, worms and insects. They are not shooting game but tend to appear on the market in autumn, together with pheasants and partridges.
Guinea fowl or pintade as they are called in French, are very popular in France and it was there I first tasted them. Gorgeous roasted!
And they are cheap since their upkeep costs are modest. With that, they are completely free range, a little like lodgers at a farm or small-holding. And they are impressively plumed: given names for their colours to describe different breeds, White, Lavender, Buff Dundottes and Royal Blue.
What does guinea fowl taste like?
Since they are half-game, half-chicken, they taste wonderful: not as bland as cluckers but with no overpowering gamey flavour.
What then could be better to match with this glorious bird than also autumnal, wild mushrooms? It’s the absolutely perfect pairing. Especially if you are fortunate to get hold of some ceps/porcini – even amongst the more common wild fungi they will flavour the whole dish amazingly.
Whole guinea fowl makes a good roast, or even a very fancy one when it’s deboned and stuffed, but guinea fowl breast fillets are no more expensive than free range chicken and as easy to cook while far tastier.
How to cook guinea fowl breast fillets?
The method shown below is quick and simple: the guinea fowl fillets are not usually very thick so they can be cooked in the frying pan, in a little oil, seared on both sides for about four minutes on each. Since they’re gamey, they are allowed to be served pinkish in the very centre, but after eight minutes on the hob they will be perfectly cooked through.
While the meat is resting, you can turn your attention to mushrooms.
All you need to know about cleaning them is in one of my past weekly posts. I’ll only say again: don’t wash them if you can avoid it, or they’ll get mushy and shrink to nothing.
If there’s too much oil left in the pan after the guinea fowl (there shouldn’t; they are game-lean), blot it lightly with a bunched up paper towel. Mushrooms will now need a little butter, some wine to deglaze the pan and the whole tarragon sprigs which will render the flavour beautifully.
When the fungi have released their juices and re-absorbed them again, they’re ready. You can return the guinea fowl into the pan for a minute, to reheat the meat and let it permeate with the mushroom flavour.
And the feast is ready, thickly sliced meat topped with ceps, chanterelles, or whatever the autumn forest has given you this time.
No wild mushrooms?
You can certainly prepare the dish with ordinary cap mushrooms; it will be good but not as mind-blowing as with porcini and girolles. But if you use a decent mix of shiitake, oysters and chestnut mushrooms I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.
More game recipes
Whole guinea fowl, deboned, rolled and stuffed with pork and dried fruit is something for a special occasion.
A brace of partridges wrapped in bacon and roasted is another idea for an autumnal date night. Or a dinner with friends, if you roast a couple of braces.
Wild pigeon is fantastically cheap, very tasty and easy to prepare. Featuring: seared breast of wild pigeon with orange sauce.
More wild mushroom recipes
They hold their own in vegetarian dishes as an excellent source of protein, like spelt risotto with wild mushrooms for instance.
Pappardelle pasta and chanterelles, that’s a classic. And they almost rhyme.
Another recipe for wild mushrooms with quickly cooked meat: turkey steaks with chanterelles. Or any other wild mushroom variety.