Monday, September 13, 2010

POULTRY - Guinea-fowl, from Africa to Brazil

Although human beings have been known to eat almost everything that walks, hops, or squiggles its way across the earth, most animal sources of protein come from three large groups of animals - fish, birds and mammals. Archeological studies show that from earliest days humans have eaten widely from these groups and that our species has always deserved to be called omnivorous.

Among the birds eaten by humans, by any stretch of the imagination the most commonly consumed is the chicken. Today the chicken population of the world outnumbers the human population by about four-to-one, with an estimated 24 billion chickens cohabiting the planet with us humans at any given time. But chickens are not the only birds eaten by humans - ducks, geese, swans, , pheasants, pigeons, even songbirds are all to be found on human dining tables.

In a few very specific places on Earth, a distant cousin of the chicken occupies a place of honor on the human table. It is eaten commonly in Africa, where it originated, in the south of France, in the Caribbean and southern USA, and also in Brazil's Northeastern region. In English, it is usually called guinea-fowl (guinea hen) in reference to its African origins, though other English names abound. In Brazil it is known as galinha d'Angola (Angolan hen), galinha-do-mato (forest hen), capote (caped), guiné (Guinea) or pintada (dotted).

These strange-but-beautiful birds come originally from tropical Africa, and are well-acclimatized to hot weather. They are not a cold-climate bird, though they can be successfully raised anywhere in North America or Europe as long as they have some protection against cold. They are slightly larger than a chicken, weighing up to 1.5 kg (3.5 lbs) at full weight.

In Brazil's northeast, where this bird is called a capote, it is highly valued as an eating bird, and is often used as a centerpiece of a family or holiday celebration, much as a turkey is used in North America. It can be roasted, stewed, or fried, and with an allowance for additional cooking time, it can be substituted for chicken in almost any recipe. It's flavor is richer than a chicken, with a slightly higher fat content, although not nearly so much as in a duck or goose. Some people consider it to have a slightly gamy taste, although others don't notice this at all.

I have seen guinea-fowl for sale at poultry shops and farmers markets in Canada and the USA. It's worth searching out for a different take on the taste of chicken. In the next post on Flavors of Brazil, I'll provide a traditional recipe from northeastern Brazil for guinea-fowl with rice, but one needn't feel restricted to recipes that are specifically for this bird. Just adapt your favorite chicken recipe for guinea-fowl for an exotic and delicious variation.


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