I am not referring here to my dear wife, but rather to the feathered and edible variety of bird, and the guinea fowl that can be bought deep frozen here in the Algarve. These are free range birds from France, fed on a 100% vegetable and cereal-based diet and are, in my opinion, the tastiest eating birds to be found in these parts.
Unlike wild guinea fowl, the meat is not even slightly gamey, but it has a depth of chicken flavour far better than any free range or organic chicken I have tried. They are also a great deal tastier than any of the supermarket turkeys we can buy here, and ideally sized to serve between two and four people depending on appetite. So, this a good option for a small group at Christmas dinner. However, having tried roasting them whole in the past, it has proven impossible to stop the breasts from drying out, given that they are small considering the size of the bird and that guinea fowl is a far leaner meat than chicken or turkey.
To get the most out of them, both in terms of eating pleasure and meat quantity, it is well worth the effort of doing a bit of home butchering, in order to cook the breasts separately for just the right amount of time, roast the legs, thighs and wings until golden and crispy and use the carcass to make a stock for gravy. And for a special Christmas roast, the breasts can be served rolled and stuffed.
A Christmas guinea fowl roast
The birds are available from the deep freezer sections of both Intermarché and Apolónia supermarkets and cost around €10 to €12 depending on weight. The first and most important step is to defrost the bird slowly and properly. Fast defrosting, even by leaving out at room temperature, will result in loss of moisture and dry meat.
The bird should be removed from its packaging, placed on a rack over a plate and allowed to defrost in the fridge for at least 36 hours. Once fully defrosted, remove the legs and thighs from the carcass as well as the wings. Now for the tricky bit, with a sharp knife and a steady hand, the objective is to remove the breast meat from the carcass, keeping the skin intact so that both breasts and the skin remain connected. If the skin between the breasts does break, don’t despair, as you will be rolling and tying them once stuffed.
The carcass, the gravy and the delicious fat
The objective here is to tease as much flavour as possible from the carcass in order to make a very tasty stock, and render out the fat for delicious roast potatoes. Chop the carcass into three or four pieces, remove the parson’s nose along with any other fat on the carcass and chop the fat into small pieces.
Set the oven to 200°C and heat a small baking tray, just big enough to hold the carcass pieces and the fat. There is no need to add any oil or seasoning, just roast initially for around 10 minutes until the fat has started to render, then give it all a mix around, then carry on roasting until the carcass pieces are a nice golden grown and all the fat has rendered out. You should be left with around half a cup of delicious fat. Keep this for your potatoes.
To make the stock, place the carcass pieces in a pot along with some leek and celery, cover with water and bring to the boil, simmer for around 30 minutes, strain and reserve.
To make the gravy, finely chop four shallots and one clove of garlic, soften in unsalted butter and add your herb of choice (thyme, rosemary or sage). Add around 300ml of red wine, a splash of Port or Madeira and a similar amount of the stock. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Strain, return to the pan and cook over high heat to reduce by half. At this stage you will have a very tasty red wine gravy, which can be thickened with a little corn starch and finished by stirring in a knob of butter and seasoning.
The stuffed breasts
I like to use a fairly light stuffing made of shallots, green apple, a little garlic and breadcrumbs. But use whatever stuffing you prefer. However, as the breasts will cook very quickly, the stuffing needs to be cooked first and allowed to cool. Lay breasts flat, cover in stuffing and then roll lengthways and secure carefully with roasting string.
Time to roast
Separate the legs from the thighs. Make a paste by combining a clove of garlic with your chosen herb, sea salt and ground black pepper with olive oil, either in a pestle and mortar or using a food processor. Rub the paste all over the legs, thighs and wings. Roast for approximately 50 minutes at 200°C.
Around half way through the roasting, take the rolled and stuffed breasts and fry on all sides in a mixture of unsalted butter and olive oil in a frying pan until the skin is golden brown, then add to the roasting tray along with the legs and thighs for the last 15 minutes.
Allow the rolled breast to stand for 10 minutes before carving.
By Patrick Stuart