I remember it like it was yesterday: the day, over 30 years ago, that I first tasted a guinea gumbo and was immediately initiated into the colorful world of Cajun and Creole cooking. That one deep dark bowlful taught me volumes about a cuisine that has been heralded by many and misunderstood by many more. Recipe books can’t tell the whole story about the people, places, and history that go into a culture so aligned with its culinary past. It must be tasted and explored with wide-eyed curiosity.
So what does guinea hen taste like? Guineafowl comes from Africa and arrived in Acadiana sometime after the Cajuns landed in the late 1700s. The taste of guinea hens has more in common with wild game birds like pheasant than domestic poultry. It is a sublimely rich and gamey version of chicken. Dark and delicious — it is what I imagine a Bresse chicken served in the finest French kitchen of a three-star Michelin restaurant would taste like. But, guinea hen are leaner and a bit drier than chicken, so the cooking method almost always includes layers of flavor and a long, slow braise. Perfect for a gumbo.
I drive an hour to Mowata to buy my guinea hen from Bubba. That’s right, the small farming community of Mowata, Louisiana in the prairie region of Acadia Parish is the proverbial one-horse town (actually it is not even an incorporated town), but to miss it would be to miss one of the hardest working Cajuns in all of Acadiana — Bubba Frey. Bubba is always busy farming his rice field, smoking his specialty pork sausage, looking after his poultry farm, running his crawfish traps or tending to business in his storefront along the Crowley Eunice Highway.
The Mowata Store with its polished hardwood floors and pristine meat cases is part grocery and smokehouse as well as a gathering place for local farmers. Bubba farms guineas and usually has a hen or two butchered and ready to go in his meat case.
The technique for guinea versus most other gumbos is about the same with two exceptions. Guinea hens have 50% less fat than chicken so I’m browning the pieces in bacon fat to infuse flavor. And guinea hen is inherently tough, so the cooking time is much longer than a regular chicken gumbo. The rest is virtually the same – holy trinity, dark roux and a potent chicken stock. Oh, and some of my friends Kermit and Nita Lejeune’s garlic sausage from their smokehouse in Eunice, just down the road from Bubba’s place.
Try my guinea gumbo and, like me, you will immediately understand the magic and mystique of Cajun and Creole cooking.
- 6 strips smoked bacon, chopped
- 1 whole guinea hen, cut into pieces
- 1 tablespoon Acadiana Table Cajun Seasoning Blend, see recipe here2 cups diced yellow onions
- 2 cups diced green bell pepper
- 2 cups diced celery
- 2 tablespoons minced garlic
- ½ cup chopped parsley
- 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
- 2 bay leaves
- 12 cups dark chicken stock, plus more if needed
- 1 cup dark roux, plus more if needed (see recipe)
- 3 links garlic smoked pork sausage
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Dash of hot sauce
- 8 cups cooked Louisiana long-grain white rice, such as Supreme
- 1 cup diced green onion tops
- Filé powder, for serving
- Mustard potato salad, for serving
- In a large cast-iron pot with a heavy lid over medium-high heat, add the bacon and cook until fully rendered. Remove the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the bacon fat and reserve the rest.
- Lightly sprinkle the guinea hen pieces with Cajun seasoning and place into the hot fat. Brown on all sides and remove to a platter.
- In the same pot over medium-high heat, add more bacon grease to the pot, if needed. Add the onions, bell pepper, and celery and cook until browned, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic, parsley, cayenne, and bay leaves. Add the guinea hen to the pot and pour over the stock. Bring the pot to a simmer and add the roux. Place the whole sausage links along with the bacon pieces into the pot and immerse in the stock. Cover and let cook on simmer for 1 hour.
- Uncover and stir the pot. Using a ladle, skim the surface of any excess oil and discard. If too thick, add more stock. If too thin, add more roux. Add salt and pepper to taste along with a dash of hot sauce. Cover and cook on low for 1 hour longer.
- Skim the surface of excess oil and discard. At this point, you can leave the guinea hen on the bone or debone by removing the bones and skin from each of the pieces, and adding the meat back to the pot. Remove the sausage links, slice into bite-sized pieces and return to the pot. Cover and cook for another 30 minutes.
- For serving, ladle the gumbo over white rice and serve with a sprinkle of diced green onion tops and filé powder on the side. Also, a Cajun tradition is to add a scoop of potato salad on the edge of the bowl to eat along with the gumbo. Give it a try.
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