he guinea hen, or guinea fowl, is a small and hardy bird that’s a relative of the chicken and partridge, but has darker meat than either. Guinea hen is the beginner’s game bird – but it’s not at all gamey tasting. The flavor is often compared to pheasant, or described as extra-tasty chicken. The lean meat stands up nicely to strong herbs and spices, and guinea hen can be fried like chicken, braised with herbs and root vegetables, or roasted with butter or duck fat. Read on and learn more about your new favorite bird.
Although guinea hen comes from West Africa, this flavorful bird found its way to France via Portugal in the 16th century. Called pintade in France, its ubiquity on the table has earned it the nickname “Sunday bird.”
In English, the bird’s name has always been more confusing, since the terms “guinea fowl” and “guinea hen” are used interchangeably, and refer to either female or male birds of the species. Guinea hens are similar in size to chickens and pheasants, but are easily recognizable by the distinct white dotted pattern of their pearly gray plumage, as well as their bald, vulture-like head.
How to Cook Guinea Hen
Guinea hen’s lean and tender dark meat has less fat than chicken and flavor reminiscent of pheasant – a very approachable game bird. Because of its leanness, you will find that many recipes call for moist cooking methods. You may choose to brine guinea hen, or even cook the parts of the bird separately with different techniques: grill or pan-sear the breast, and roast, braise or confit the legs. Guinea hen is best when cooked to medium doneness – anything more and you risk drying the delicate meat.
Fried Guinea Hen
Many chefs offer fried guinea hen as a more exotic alternative to chicken, and prepare it the same way. Break guinea hen down into pieces, and then use your favorite recipe for breading and frying it – buttermilk dipped, flour dredged and coated with panko, air- or deep-fried. There’s no wrong way to fry guinea fowl.
Rotisserie Guinea Hen
With a rotisserie attachment on your grill it’s easy to cook guinea hen like a restaurant would. And if you are not equipped for that, it’s pretty simple to approximate the results by vertical roasting in the oven using a beer (or rosé) can or a rack suited to the task. You’ll get crispy skin on all sides.
Roasted Guinea Hen
Because the bird is so lean, the flesh can become dry and stringy if not cooked properly. When roasting guinea hen, be sure to generously cover it with fat such as bacon, duck fat, or butter to baste it. You can also try barding, a traditional technique that involves laying slices of bacon over lean meat to protect it in the oven. You may also try brining your bird for 24 hours before roasting, which helps to keep the meat moist.
Braised Guinea Hen
After pan searing on all sides, braise guinea hen with aromatics, a little wine and your favorite root vegetables in a Dutch oven, and finish with a blast of heat to crisp the skin.
Grilled Guinea Hen
In order to prevent drying out the lean meat, you can sous vide guinea hen for a few hours, or poach it to par-cook before putting on the grill. You may also spatchcock, or butterfly, the bird so that it cooks flat, more quickly and evenly. Finish by basting with butter for spectacular results.
About D’Artagnan Guinea Hen
D'Artagnan guinea hens are humanely and naturally raised on a small poultry farm in California. The farmers obtained the highest-grade French breeding stock to establish their flock nearly 30 years ago. And they continue the proud tradition of quality here in the United States.
The cage-free guinea fowl feed on corn, soy, and wheat alfalfa and no antibiotics or hormones are ever used. From breeding to processing, the farm is dedicated to producing birds of distinction.