Braised Guinea Hen with Wild Mushrooms and Country Ham

One of the best lunches I ever had was by myself on a wet, blustery summer Sunday afternoon on the coast of Brittany. After pristine Belon oysters, I had a roast guinea hen, accompanied by French fries and a watercress salad. For years I have tried in vain to duplicate that simple roast fowl, but Frank is right: guinea fowl raised in America should be braised rather than roasted.

This same recipe also works well with free-range natural chickens. He serves both with the vegetables.

Ingredients

  • 2 fresh guinea hens, about 2 pounds each
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • ½ onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon each fresh thyme, marjoram, winter savory leaves
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 cup Aromatic Vegetable Mix
  • 2 cups dry red wine
  • 2 tablespoons ruby port
  • 1 tablespoon dried porcini mushrooms (cepes, boletus)
  • 1 sprig fresh thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 cups chicken stock
  • 1 piece ham bone, rind, or slice from shank
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 cups fresh chanterelles or other wild mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 thin slices southern-style country ham or Smithfield ham, cut into very thin strips 2 inches long

Method

Cut each guinea hen into serving pieces: Remove the legs and thighs and separate them. Remove the wing, just above the ball and socket joint. Split the breast and cut side crosswise. Put all the pieces in a bowl. Add the garlic, onion, olive oil, and herbs; toss to coat lightly. Let marinate at room temperature for 30 minutes, tossing once.

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

Remove the guinea hen pieces from the marinade and pat dry; reserve the marinade. Season the pieces of guinea hen with salt and pepper. Heat the vegetable oil in a heavy skillet or cast-iron casserole. When hot, sear the pieces of guinea hen over medium-high heat until golden brown on both sides. Remove and place on a cooling rack set over a cookie sheet. Put the vegetable mix and marinade ingredients in the skillet and cook for 15 minutes over medium heat, stirring often, until they are lightly browned.

Pour in the red wine and port and bring to a boil. Cook until reduced to about cup. Add the porcini, thyme, bay leaf, and chicken stock. Bring to a simmer and cook for 3 minutes.

Put the pieces of guinea hen and the ham bone in a gratin dish just large enough to hold them and the vegetables. Pour the vegetables and their liquid over the guinea hen. Cover with foil and place in the oven. Reduce the oven temperature to 325°F and braise for 15 minutes.

Test the breast pieces for doneness and remove them when cooked. Continue to cook the remaining pieces. When all the guinea hen is done, return the breast meat to the gratin dish. Strain the braising liquid into a saucepan; discard the vegetables and ham bone. Boil until the liquid is reduced by half. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Pour the sauce over the pieces in the gratin dish.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large sauté pan and add the chanterelles. Season with salt and pepper. Cook over medium heat, stirring, for 5 minutes.

Heat the gratin dish until the guinea hen is hot, swirl in the remaining butter, and serve with the chanterelles. Scatter the strips of ham over the guinea hen and serve.