My mother once tried to raise guinea hens, tiresome birds that made a lot of noise and were hard to catch as they persisted in roosting in the trees. So when I moved to France and found guinea hens ready-prepared in the local market I was delighted.  They have much more taste than a chicken and handily replace game birds such as partridge and pheasant. If you cannot find them, use a small chicken instead.

Serves 4

  • 1.35kg/3lb guinea hen
  • a medium head white cabbage (about 1.35kg/3lb)
  • 1½ tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 8 small or 4 medium sausages (about 225g/½lb)
  • 8 thickly cut slices bacon (about 170g/6oz)
  • salt and pepper
  • 6-8 small carrots OR 2 large carrots, quartered
  • 500ml/16fl oz/2 cups chicken stock
  • 250ml/8fl oz/1 cup white wine
  • 1 onion, studded with a clove
  • bouquet garni
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • large casserole

1.  Truss the guinea hen with string. Heat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF/Gas 4. Quarter the cabbage, discard the core and shred each wedge, cutting across the veins in the leaves. Blanch the cabbage by boiling it in the casserole in salted water, allowing 1 minute after it has come to a boil.  Drain the cabbage and set aside.

2.  Wipe out the casserole, heat the oil in it and brown the sausages, 2-3 minutes. Take them out, then brown the guinea hen on all sides. Take it out, add the bacon slices and fry until starting to brown. Take out half of them. Spread half the cabbage over the remaining bacon in the pan and sprinkle with a little salt and pepper.  Put the hen on top, surrounded by the carrots, and cover with the remaining cabbage. Season with salt and pepper and top with the remaining bacon slices. Pour in the stock and wine.  Add the onion and bouquet garni, pushing them well down into the cabbage.  Cover and bring to a boil. Simmer in the oven for 1-1¼ hours or until the hen and carrots are tender.  During the last 10 minutes of cooking, add the sausages to the casserole to reheat, pushing them down into the cabbage.

3.  When the bird is tender, transfer the hen to a carving board, and cover it with foil to keep warm. Lift out the sausages, bacon and carrots. Lift out the cabbage with a slotted spoon so the cooking juices are left in the pan. Boil the cooking juices until well flavored and reduced to about 375ml/12fl oz/1½ cups. Discard the onion and bouquet garni from the cabbage and pile it in the center of a large platter.  Either set the hen on top or cut it into quarters, discarding the backbone, and set the pieces on top.  Arrange the sausages, bacon, and carrots around the edge of the cabbage. Cover the dish and keep it hot in a low oven while you finish the gravy.

4. Skim off excess fat from the gravy, reheat it, taste and adjust the seasoning.  Spoon a little around the cabbage platter and serve the rest separately.  Sprinkle the platter with parsley just before serving.

Shortcut: Blanch the cabbage for 5 minutes so it is partly cooked.  Cut the guinea hen in 4 pieces before browning it.  Continue as directed, simmering only 45-55 minutes until the hen and carrots are tender.

Getting Ahead: The whole dish can be completely cooked ahead and gently reheated on top of the stove, taking at least 15 minutes so all the contents are hot. I would, however, make the gravy after reheating the bird and cabbage.

On the Side: Caramelized Tomatoes will add a cheerful touch of color.

In the Glass: A Pinot Noir would be so very good with this recipe, or a simple Beaujolais if your budget is tight.

Caramelized Tomatoes: I make these tomatoes in generous quantities to serve with almost anything, for example steak, grilled fish or chicken, or a plump veal chop. Set them on a slice of crusty ciabatta bread sprinkled with extra virgin olive oil and you have a champion bruschetta.
Gently heat a large frying pan and sprinkle it with 2 tablespoons sugar. Leave it for 2 minutes to melt without stirring, then stir lightly and leave the sugar to cook to a golden caramel. Remove from the heat and add at once add 3 tablespoons vinegar, standing back as it can sting your eyes. Stir in 4 tablespoons olive oil and return the pan to the heat, stirring for about a minute until the caramel has dissolved. Let the pan cool slightly, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and add 450g/1lb plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise. Tuck 2 sprigs rosemary and 2 bay leaves down among the tomatoes, together with the unpeeled cloves from a whole head of garlic. Cover and cook the tomatoes over a low heat for 15 minutes. Remove lid and cook for 35-40 minutes until almost all liquid has gone. Makes enough tomatoes for 4.

From Good Food No Fuss by Anne Willan, 2003
Photo CREDIT: Simon Wheeler