Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Guinea Fowl and Fennel

Guinea fowl, originally an African bird, were brought to Europe by the Portuguese in their colonial days. They are pretty creatures that eat bugs and roost in trees rather than scratch for worms and roost in a hen house and in this way are, in fact, not much like chickens. I guess it is possible to intensively rear them but they are happiest pecking about at leisure. They taste like a very chickeny chicken without being too gamey. The flesh is firm and they don't carry much fat and they roast up a treat if you seal the skin first in a hot pan.

They are also useful to science. According to the RDS website, scientists are learning from guinea fowl why some muscles feel the burn during exercise more than others. The researchers placed six guinea fowl on a treadmill and gave them three different workouts. During one, they birds wore a backpack to work the stance muscles. A second wore ankle weights to work the swing muscles. The third worked out without weights.

Not every leg muscle worked equally. With the backpack, three of the 12 stance muscles consumed nearly three quarters of the energy flowing to the muscles. The researchers think these three muscles – two in the thigh and one in the lower leg – are more efficient. In contrast, all the birds' swing muscles helped equally.

I have included the above snippet because it conjures up such magnificently bizarre images of fit birds and cartoon chickens off to war that I just had to share it.

The recipe comes from River Café Cook Book Easy - a book that really does contain what it says on the cover. This dish always works and is just unusual enough to create interest. It's good at this time of year as it is substantial without being too rich. It only takes about 20 minutes preparation and is cooked in less than an hour so it is an excellent choice for a mid week dinner party. The fennel roasts to be meltingly soft, scenting the dish with aniseed.

Guinea Fowl with Fennel

2 guinea fowl
4 garlic cloves
2 tbspns rosemary leaves
1 red onion
3 fennel bulbs
Olive oil
10 slices of pancetta
250ml white wine

Ask the butcher to cut each guinea fowl into 8 pieces after first cutting out the backbone. Wipe the pieces clean and trim off any fat. Peel and finely chop the garlic and chop the rosemary. Peel the onion and cut it and the fennel bulbs into eighths. Cut the pancetta into 1cm pieces. Preheat the oven to 200C/Gas 6.

Mix the garlic and rosemary with salt and pepper. Put the guinea fowl into a large roasting tin drizzle with olive oil and add the garlic mixture. Turn each piece to coat it thoroughly. Spread into a single layer across the base of the pan.

Scatter the red onion, fennel and pancetta over the birds. Drizzle with olive oil and roast for 1/2 hour.

Add the wine and roast for a further 20 minutes. Raise the heat to 225C/Gas 9 for the last few minutes to brown.

Serve with braised lentils.

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