The Guinea fowl, prized by the French…largely ignored by the British is a bird of legend.
Artemis, the daughter of Zeus- a Greek god of hunting- as well as wild creatures, the wilderness and incidentally safety in childbirth had a special relationship with the Guinea fowl. Following the death of Meleager the king of Calydon, Artemis turned her sisters into Guinea fowl; in an attempt to ease their pain over the death of the king.
Guinea fowl originated in West Africa and have been used as food for thousands of years. In the time of the Pharaohs,’ 2400 B.C. images of the bird were inscribed on the walls of temples and pyramids.
By 400 B.C. the Greeks had domesticated the bird and were introducing them into the Roman world as a delicacy. Alternatively known as ‘the chicken of Numidia’ or the ‘Turkish chicken’ by the Romans, it was also known as ‘the chicken of India’ by the Greeks.
In the 15th Century Guinea fowls were being called Pintado by the Spanish, which refers to the head of the Guinea fowl being ‘cloaked’ or well hidden by enlarged flaps of skin.
The birds were not known in Northern Europe before their introduction in the 14th and 15th centuries by Portuguese merchants and became known as Pintade in French.
The birds rarely weigh over 3 1/2 lbs., although appearing larger than this alive owing to the density of their plumage. They have small bones and the carcass produces relatively a large amount of meat. Although not widely seen in the UK, they have been extensively available and appreciated in the finer restaurants for over 30 years. They are easy to rear, often free range and the flesh, which has a very mild game flavour, provides a good introduction to people who are not particularly keen on the stronger flavours of other types of game.
It is not easy to distinguish the sex of Guinea fowl, they are invariably sold oven ready and there is no discernible difference between the size of either the cock and hen birds or the quality and flavour of the meat.
There are three categories of Guinea fowl in France, the Pintade standard, which attains approximately 1.6Kg/3.5Lb. The Pintade certifiée which is raised to 82 days and attains 1.8Kg/4Lb, and the Pintade Label Rouge raised for a minimum of 94 days and weighing 1.9Kg/>4Lb or more when slaughtered.
Guinea fowls along with other game birds appear in the supermarkets from the end of September with the start of the hunting season and although they are not hunted, they are still considered a winter feast and can be used wherever a recipe calls for chicken. For a good selection of recipes have a look at Pintade.com, a site specialising in the Guinea fowl
All Breeds of Poultry, Origin: History: Description, Mating and Characteristics, by Frank L. Platt. Published by AMERICAN POULTRY JOURNAL, Chicago, Illinois
(source CIP, Synalaf, Sopexa, Scees