Guinea Hen Cooked on Hay with Truffle

As its name partly suggests it, the Guinea hen is a bird endemic to Africa, to practically the whole continent,  where it lives and is able to adapt to a large variety of habitats, from savannas to forests, and even deserts, with the vulturine guinea hen, found in Eastern Africa and able to survive without drinking water for a very long time. No wonder then why it was a bird easy to adapt in Europe where, following the Egyptians (in some languages, its other name is Pharaoh’s hen), the ancient Greeks and Romains raised it to offer to the gods, before considering it as an ornament animal and eventually an edible bird. Outside of Africa, the guinea hen is therefore a domesticated animal, although, unlike chickens for instance, its way of living remains on the “wild side”: perching on trees, foraging, laying its eggs in hidden and changing areas…

This bird is particular popular in France, where its name pintade is directly derived from the Portuguese pintada meaning literally “painted”. A reference to its “polka dotted” plumage. France is the first worldwide producer of this bird and it is considered as a relatively fancy bird served on Sunday meals. For instance, in my family originated from the East of France, we use to serve it with, and on top of, sauerkraut.

From its origins and its persisting wildness, its meat has kept some attributes: lean, dark and having a subtle gamey taste, between the chicken and the pheasant. In this respect, this is the perfect bird for people who wish to be initiated or prepared to gaminess. This is also something to consider when you cook it, as it could be rapidly dry. No rotisserie or BBQ for the Guinea hen, but lead on pot-roasting, bacon wrapping… or like the recipe proposed here, roasted on a layer of hay in a bread-tightened Dutch oven, with as a bonus, truffle slices slid under its skin (you can also put butter)!!!

This is a recipe similar to the hay-roasted truffled chicken proposed a while ago here… Except that I didn’t cook it whole, just legs and the breasts, the carcass being used to make a perfect truffle risotto. In fact, this fabulous and delicious recipe was inspired both by the Alain Passard's poulet au foin (Hay Chicken) and by the poularde en demi-deuil (literally half-mourning hen, referring to its black truffle accoutrement) created by la Mère Brazier... There are worse inspirations than those two iconic chefs!!! Except that I didn’t cook it whole, just legs and the breasts, the carcass being used to make a perfect truffle risotto.

Levels of difficulty

Summer/Winter truffle
30 minutes
30 minutes after cooking
40 minutes

Ingredients 2/4 servings depending on the bird’s size

§  1 guinea hen
§  1 good handful of organic hay
§  A few slices of truffle (here, Summer truffle, less flavorful but much cheaper than the Winter truffle
§  ~1 cup of flour
§  10 g of baker yeast (optional)
§  Oil and butter
§  S&P

§  With the flour, the yeast and some water, make a simple dough and shape it like a ribbon, the length of which should be equivalent to the circumference of your pot/Dutch oven lid. NB: the yeast is optional, as the ribbon only aims at sealing the lid and the pot. Adding yeast will just allow you serve a piece of the ribbon with the bird, as a reminder of how it was cooked,   
§  Remove the legs, the breasts on their bone and the wings from the bird, keep the wings (to make drumettes as a starter for instance) and the carcass to make a broth (for your side risotto for instance),
§  Slide a slice (or more) of truffle under the sin of the legs and the breasts,
§  Rapidly sear them in oil and butter to color them on the skin side,
§  Salt and pepper them,
§  Place the hay in the bottom of a Dutch oven and shape it a bit like a nest,
§  Place the legs and breasts on the hay, skin side up,
§  Put the lid on and “seal” it with the dough ribbon on the full rim length,
§  Put in a 400 F preheated for 40 minutes,
§  After the 40 minutes, take the out of the oven and let it rest, lid and seal on, for around 30 minutes. This is an important phase allowing the bird to gently complete its cooking and the hay to further infuse it,
§  After this time, break the seal, enjoy the flavors exhaling from the pot and serve the bird.
§  Here, I served it with a truffle risotto made with the bird carcass broth and some truffle trims…