Sunday, 18 October 2015

Why I won't be cooking guinea fowl again

So... I almost called this post 'at least the sauce was nice' but that's too downbeat. The guinea fowl I served was tasty... and hot, but all that effort to serve a simple plate of poultry... too much. In truth, this was not a dish I was proud of. Sorry Gail.

Gail's group (of tennis ladies). St Anne's parents may spot a familiar face too.
As I cut through my eighth drumstick, Etien reminded me that two years ago I said I'd never serve chicken again. This was, in part, because many people like their chicken... let's call it 'well done'. Around this time of year you will find me howling 'overcooked' at Iceland, Sainsbury's and M&S adverts as some hand model with a knife cuts through another Sahara slice of turkey breast; drier than the wit of Santa's most sarcastic gnome. But it's also because of what I call mid-size poultry logistics.

This was before I cooked it.
I'm happy to serve single-portion poultry or game: quail, poussin, teal etc. That's simple. Cook one, serve one. With a chicken sized thing though you have the plating dilemma. A guinea fowl is slightly smaller and serves two people, but you can't put a roast bird on the table and expect guests to hack their own. Honestly, I tried this in the early days. Doesn't work. We simply don't have the cutting space;  there's too much potential for a push and slide catastrophe to say nothing of gravy splashes on posh frocks or the time it takes as everything else cools on the plate. This means slicing, dicing and plating in the kitchen. So what went wrong?

I never serve anything I've not tried a few times so I'd roasted a couple of guinea fowl during the week; good looking French numbers from F. Norman butchers in Oakwood. It's a nice eat. It does have more flavour than chicken; not gamey but maybe smokier? Throw a couple at your family, of a Sunday lunch, and no one will complain - apart from your vegetarian. The cold carcass makes excellent pickings too, for those who do. A roast GF carcass makes a cracking stock by the way. Almost a soup on its own. 

I thought a traditional sauce of dry sherry, thyme and mushrooms would be good and warming... and so it is. I'm experienced enough now to know that cooking one is not the same as cooking four. The oven has to do more work and there's less air to circulate. This was my issue. After 38 minutes the breasts looked deliciously tender with a crispy skin but the legs were still close to raw in places. The solution was to cut off the legs and return to the oven for another ten minutes while letting the breast on birds rest. This was a Mary Berry tip that I'd noticed while trawling for recipes.

The dry breast/undercooked leg is of course a perennial poultry problem. The issue is acute with this bird as the breast is long, thin and slender. Some like a lattice of bacon to protect but I think this influences the flavour too much and makes the skin soggy. You buy guinea fowl to taste guinea fowl, not pork. 

Guinea fowl before.
Anyway, back in the New River sweat shop...  do you know how tricky it is trying to remove eight very hot, very slippery, guinea fowl legs? And quickly. And neatly. The answer is in the plural and rich with expletives. And of course, by then that delicious, crispy breast skin on the covered carcasses had softened. The meat was still warm and tender at least.

And guinea fowl after... or rather, during.
The upside is I've learned a lesson and maybe my hot fowl butchery skills are improved. Next time... there won't be one... but just in case... I'll remove the legs beforehand and roast them separately  This will give me more room in my big pan for the main body of the birds and allow me to get the timings right on both without compromise or burnt hands. Maybe the legs could be confit-ed and the rest roasted? But nooooo. No next time.

Gail's group started with English cheddar soufflés and ended with a raspberry pavlova. No issues with either of those. Pavlova: a big fluffy, sweet and creamy cloud with fruit on top. This was mine. To add interest I always make a syrup from the fruit and spice it up a little. I made some little meringue stars too, as a crunchy contrast.
Gaye's team.
 Saturday was much easier. Another tennis team; this time Gaye's. She'd asked for my new smoked haddock soufflés and for mains: roast lamb chump - a real room pleaser.

Smoked haddock soufflé with a tomato vinaigrette
Dessert was new. I've been making a lot of pear and plum tarts recently and have been struck by how tasty the poaching syrup is, post pear. So I wanted to serve just the fruit. I added some crystallised almonds, a scoop of creme fraiche ice cream and a vanilla langue de chat biscuit.

This was one of the best desserts I've ever served. If you're bringing a party to us before Christmas, I urge you to try it. The flavours and textures combine and contrast so well. The pear was William and you must make the effort to seek this variety out. It is wonderfully aromatic, seriously so. The flesh is dense and juicy.

Many recipes tell you to poach a pear for twenty minutes. Pish! I simmer mine for ten and then turn off the heat. Even firm fruit will cook in that time. I dressed my pears on the plate with a little of the poaching syrup that had been reduced to sticky by boiling with a vanilla pod - itself one of the best things I've ever tasted.

There is a classic French dish of pears cooked with... guinea fowl. Maybe. Maybe.

Isn't that soothing? Just what I need.

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