Bird in the Pan

It’s worth two in the bush. 

Guinea hen is just about my favorite bird to prepare, but you won’t find this West African species in the fields around Bozeman. Pheasant or Hungarian partridge make a nice substitute and have similar dark and flavorful flesh. I love the contrast of the earthy flesh with a bright citrus reduction. That’s why I prepare these birds with a garlic-rich sauce with slowly reduced lemon slices to provide a maximum of flavor with a minimum amount of effort. The garlic, slowly poached in duck fat, loses its bite and turns sweet and mild. This dish, served with fresh pasta and a light red wine, slightly chilled, will change your perspective on fall eating. Here’s the recipe.

3 lemons, thinly sliced, seeds removed plus 1/4 cup lemon juice
1 pound of peeled garlic cloves
2 quarts of water with 2 tablespoons of salt added
1.5 cups of heavy cream
2 guinea hens, or 5-6 pounds of pheasant or partridge
Salt and pepper
1 cup of duck fat (Mary’s Organic available at the Co-op)
1 chopped carrot
1 chopped onion 

Combine the lemons and half of the peeled garlic with the salted water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat and cook until the water has evaporated completely. Pour in 1 cup of the cream and let the mixture cook gently over medium-low heat. Set aside. 

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. 

Season the birds with salt and pepper, then put them in a roasting pan and spread at least a tablespoon of duck fat over each bird. Roast the birds for 20 minutes. Add the carrot and onion and turn the birds over and roast for 15 additional minutes. Remove the birds from the pan and remove the legs.

Combine the garlic cloves with half a cup of duck fat in a saucepan and cook slowly until completely tender, about 20 minutes.

Place a tablespoon of the duck fat in a skillet on medium-high heat; add the legs and pan-fry for 4-5 minutes until golden brown on both sides. De-glaze the pan with lemon juice, then add in the remaining cream. Transfer the mixture to a blender along with the garlic confit and puree until smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Gently reheat the garlic-lemon sauce and spoon it over a platter, laying the legs on top. Remove the breasts from the bone, slice crosswise, and arrange on the platter.

Collen Helm owns Vino Per Tutti in Bozeman and Enoteca in Big Sky.