August means figs. Sunday means lunch. And lolling about doing nothing. The temperature’s a balmy 26° with a warm breeze, the terrace beckons…
The solution is an all-in-one Sunday lunch such as braised Guinea fowl with figs, sweet potatoes, shallots and garlic, put on to cook slowly while the chef enjoys a coffee or three with her feet up.
First, shoot your Guinea fowl (vegetarians stop reading HERE), or, like me, order one from the butcher, a free-range beauty with a red beak and black feet from the Gers, home of France’s finest poultry (OK, there’s those chickens from Bresse…).
Second, pick your figs, making sure to stamp feet loudly when approaching tree at bottom of field to warn sleeping snakes. Third, prepare the bird. In my case this means shouting ‘au secours’ to the Maître de Maison to come and remove head, feet and entrails. I have not yet got my Elizabeth David qualification in Close Encounters with Scaly Claws, Coxcombs and Gizzards, but in any case it’s the rational division of labour, the Maître de Maison having one branch of the family hailing directly from the Périgord and thus being genetically programmed to deal with the slaughter of woolly mammoths. A small bird poses no problem.
Today, though, he is grumpy as I have interrupted his artistic pursuits painting the shutters. So far he’s only done the undercoat; I’m half-expecting a frieze of leaping antelopes for the final version in sage green.
Once the bird is looking more presentable (your butcher will do this for you in advance if no Perigordians handy), salt and pepper the insides. Prepare the vegetables: peel sweet potatoes and chop into largish chunks, leave garlic and shallots in their ‘robe des champs’, their ‘field-dress’, i.e. with their skins on. For years I misheard this expression and imagined them cooking slowly in their dressing-gowns (robe de chambre). Throw giblets into saucepan to be eaten separately/used to supplement sauce and simmer till cooked.
Get your cast-iron casserole heating on stove with a small amount of olive oil and brown the bird on all sides. Ditto the veg, but hold the figs. Season with salt, pepper and sprig of thyme. Slosh in a dollop of something sweet, fruity and alcoholic and boil off alcohol over high heat for about two minutes. I used port this time, but have also tried with Madeira or sweet sherry. In French Country Cooking (1950) Elizabeth David* says ‘there is no French cooking without wine’ and her recipe for Duck with Figs begins: ‘Put 16 fresh figs to marinate in a half bottle of sauternes for 24 hours…’
After the alcohol has boiled off, stir in a cupful of water, put lid on casserole and place into a pre-heated 210° fan oven. After 10 minutes, take out, have a look, add a bit more water if necessary and put everything back again, this time at 180°. Cooking time will depend on the weight of the bird, use an oven-thermometer or, as a rough guess, 20 minutes to the pound and 20 minutes over. Mine weighed in at 2 kg and was ready in 2 ¼ hours. Check on progress every 30 minutes, turning the bird, adding water if necessary. Throw in figs for the last 30 minutes to allow to keep their shape and a bit of crunch.
Go and sit in garden and enjoy your coffee.
To serve: remove bird and veg onto warm serving platter, reduce sauce if necessary on top of stove, skimming off fat (these birds are quite fatty) and adding some of water from giblets. Serve sauce separately or ladle over meat. The sweet potatoes will have miraculously transformed themselves into a sort of chunky orange mash, flavoured with garlic, and the shallots will be deliciously tender inside their field-dress. Serve with a good red wine (we opened a Côte de Nuits).
NB: Before carving, you may want to fortify yourself with a Kir Royal.
Well, it is Sunday. Santé!
10 thoughts on “Provincial Lady SW France: A Lazy Sunday Lunch”
It has taken me forever to get here, Laurette–my intentions were….well, never mind–you know the rest.
However, I almost stopped reading, as instructed, being one of those vegetarians–but I continued, although not without fear and trepidation–you are in France, after all, and I know that there every moving thing is fair game for the dining table. And then the stomping of feet under the fig tree–to wake the sleeping creepy crawlies??? Oh dear. Almost lost me there. If I were in that situation, I would have to hire fig pickers.
Your need to have the Maître de Maison make the bird look less like a bird, and therefore ready to cook, brought back memories of when I lived there in pre-vegetarian days and had to deal with turkeys that arrived dead and fresh from the farm–thank heavens for French men and their built-in talents!
I’m quite impressed that you did all that you did and still managed time to lie around sipping coffee–are you sure that wasn’t just your imagination providing that leisure? In any event, it sounded like a wonderful late summer Sunday, and as usual, it brought back many memories. Merci!
Ha ha Nancy, thanks for your comments, I loved the observation that in France ‘every moving thing is fair game for the dining table’, so very true and particularly here in the countryside. I remember your tussles with Thanksgiving turkeys… At least in ‘la ville rose’ there were certain filters. As I said in one interview, adapting to a rural lifestyle has had its moments, appeal to the neighbour for help with Internet you get a funny look but come away with the precious family recipe for jugged hare…xxx
Long time! Lovely post and the meal looks delicious. You are so lucky to have fresh figs from your tree. Nice to see you’re doing well.
Lovely to hear from you! All well here and yes, the figs have been delicious, one of the nicest trees to have in the garden. How are things with you? Next book…???? I’ll take a look at your blog and see what’s cooking ha ha… lots of good thoughts to you and yours xxx
(readers, check out Denise’s blog and works in progress by clicking on her name! )
Very enjoyable post, Laurette, however, no wonder he’s grumpy – he’s painting shutters while you’re slurping Kir Royales! My sympathies are with S!
Jealous Bruv in cold and wet Yorkshire…
Thank you cher frère, to borrow/adapt a notorious phrase in response to your blatantly male chauvinistic alliance with the Maître de Maison – ‘well they would be, wouldn’t they?’ 😉 xx
Lovely! Glad you enjoyed your Sunday.
Thank you Catherine, we did! I don’t know if you got as far as the Tarn when you were over here? A beautiful part of the country but I’m sure your number one place is among those mountains (and a region I don’t know at all). Francophiles note: Catherine’s blog is here:
and you can read about her experiences in France when she and her family moved from Australia to the Haute-Savoie and check out her memoir ‘But You are in France, Madame’. Santé!
That all sounds so good! I’m not sure I’ve ever eaten guinea fowl, but anything with figs should be scrumptious. We are having crabs and spaghetti for dinner, here, with chunks of watermelon to nibble on whilst the crabs are cooking.
Oh, I love crab, but it’s so fiddly to prepare. Crab and spaghetti sounds great, I know that an Italian classic is clams and spaghetti. Guinea fowl – if all goes well with your project I’m sure you’ll be tasting one in the coming months 😉