A wonderful roast for a holiday spread, inspired by one of the many ways this is prepared in northern Italy. This is usually done with guinea fowl, a lean bird, similar in size to a chicken, similar in taste to pheasant. As it is so lean, it needs a little help to stay moist during cooking, so wrapping it in pancetta has a double purpose – amazing flavour, succulent meat. Sweet flavours go beautifully with guinea fowl, hence this stuffing with chestnuts.
This dish requires deboning the guinea fowl, a wonderful thing to learn if you've never tried it (watch Jacques Pepin's method on youtube). You could perhaps also get your very friendly butcher to do this for you.
Some notes on the ingredients required.
If you can't get hold of guinea fowl (this autumn/winter bird is very seasonal, but sometimes you can find it frozen), you could try this stuffing with any poultry, be it chicken, poussin, quails or even duck. If using poussin, two will serve 4 people with the same measurements given below. I've done it also with duck breasts, pounded out a little, stuffed and tied, as individual mini roasts.
Use plain Italian style pork sausages – do not use hot, spicy or flavoured sausages please. Pancetta can be round or in strips but should be sliced paper thin. Do not use bacon, as it will be too thick and do not substitute with prosciutto – though tasty, it won't be fatty enough.
You can use fresh chestnuts, boiled and peeled yourself, or you can buy cooked and peeled tinned chestnuts too. —Emiko
For the guinea fowl
guinea fowl (or 2 poussin)
Salt and pepper
plain Italian pork sausages
boiled and peeled chestnuts (approx)
fresh sage leaves
paper-thin slices of pancetta
A sauce (optional)
The wings from the guinea fowl
3 to 4
slices of pancetta
dried porcini mushroom pieces, soaked in hot water
Debone the bird, setting aside the wings for the sauce, if making. I highly recommend searching Jacques Pepin's video and watch how this master does it. Season the inside with some salt and pepper.
Remove the sausage casings and blend the sausage meat with the chestnuts in a food processor, or if you prefer a more rustic filling, finely chop the chestnuts and add to the sausage meat and blend with a fork until well incorporated. Finely chop the sage leaves and add to the mixture. Stuff the bird with this mixture.
Assemble the pancetta on some parchment or cling wrap, slightly overlapping the slices, to create an even layer the same length as the bird and wide enough to wrap around the bird. Lay the bird in the middle and wrap the parchment around it, so you have a perfect layer of pancetta covering the entire bird. Remove the parchment/cling wrap carefully.
Truss the bird with trussing string to keep it together in an even shape. Sear the trussed bird in an ovenproof pan until browned on all sides, then place in a hot oven (about 350ºF) for until a meat thermometer shows the internal temperature is 140-150ºF). For the poussin, this was roughly 20 minutes; for guinea fowl or chicken, it will likely take twice as long. I recommend using a thermometer to check doneness. Remove from the oven and let rest, covered, keeping warm.
Make a sauce to accompany the roast by sauteing the wings with a few slices of pancetta. Brown them well, the browner and stickier they become, the better. Add the revived porcini mushrooms, drained (reserve the liquid), then lower the heat and add the chopped scallion and saute until soft. Add tomato paste for colour and deglaze the pan with the mushroom liquid and white wine. Season with salt and pepper and reduce the sauce until it has thickened slightly. Strain the sauce and return to the pan with the butter, whisking to incorporate. Serve with the roast, cut into thick slices.
This would go well with some polenta and a side of seasonal vegetables.
The Australian-Japanese cookbook author has lived in Florence (where a visit to a cheese farm once inspired her to start a food blog) for over 10 years with her Tuscan sommelier husband and two kids. Her third cookbook, Tortellini at Midnight, is out now.