For a small and very special Thanksgiving dinner, consider the guinea fowl. This luxury game bird is now being bred in Canada from French stock and shipped weekly to the United States.
Pintade Farms of Toronto, which introduced the bird to the New World in 1985, is the largest producer in North America and the only one that brings in French birds for breeding. The French fowl has a larger breast and is more tender and moist, says James R. Hicks, a partner in the enterprise.
Pintade Farms has given the bird a new name--pintelle. If you have traveled in Europe, you may have encountered it under such names as guinea fowl (England), \o7 pintade \f7 (France), \o7 pintada \f7 (Spain and Portugal), \o7 faraona \f7 (Italy) and \o7 Perlhuhn \f7 (Germany).
The bird is so popular in France that an estimated 50 million are consumed there annually. In addition to delicate game flavor and a high yield of meat, it is low in fat--a decided advantage in the holiday season of overindulgence.
Hicks describes the flavor as "this side of pheasant, the other side of grain-fed chicken." The birds weigh in at 2 to 3 pounds and have light and dark meat just like a chicken or turkey. A pintelle grilled in The Times' test kitchen was so mild in flavor that it did not seem like a game bird. The density of the meat set it off from domestic fowl, however, and the legs of the young bird were free of the ligaments associated with chicken. To bring out the game flavor, chefs recommend removing the bird from its packaging and setting it uncovered in the refrigerator for 24 hours.
Hicks recommends marinating pintelle with oil, shallots and herbs, grilling the bird and serving it with wild rice. One marinade that he suggests consists of 3/4 cup olive oil; 3 shallots, chopped; 3 cloves garlic, crushed; 2 teaspoons each thyme leaves, white pepper and white wine; 1 teaspoon rosemary leaves and 1 teaspoon salt.
That's a simple idea, but Canadian chefs who have been experimenting with pintelle are coming up with such complex creations as ballottine of pintelle with black currant and Pernod sauce (Suzanne Stormont and Anne Desbrisay, Toronto caterers), pintelle with savoy cabbage and Pommery mustard sauce (Mark McEwan, owner-chef of Pronto in Toronto) and pintelle steamed with lemon, fresh ginger and almonds (Jamie Kennedy of Palmerston in Toronto).
Pintelle is being shipped to Los Angeles regularly and can be special-ordered through premium meat markets, according to a local distributor, Brian Reff, whose Reff Brothers Food Co. specializes in exotic poultry and game. The approximate retail price is $5.50 a pound, or roughly $12.50 a bird. And a 2 3/4-pound bird provides enough meat for 3 to 4 servings.
Wild rice not only goes well with pintelle but also with the holiday turkey. California now grows its own, although it's not wild and it has a slightly different flavor than that grown in the Midwest. Commercial wild rice production started in the state in 1977, but the first seeds were planted in 1972 as an experiment by Vince Vanderford, a Yuba City farmer. Vanderford used seeds from Minnesota, long the leading source of wild rice.
Today, most of the California crop grows in the Sacramento Valley, with acreage stretching into Modoc, Shasta, Lake, Butte, Colusa, Yuba and Sutter counties. The seed of an aquatic grass, it has a short growing season. The earliest California plantings take place in June, and the harvest continues from July through October.
Once, all American wild rice came from lakes, tidal rivers and bays. Harvesters paddled through the waterways in canoes, flailing the seeds from the grass into their boats. Now, California farmers plant the seeds in man-made paddies and harvest mechanically.
The California crop has flourished, which has brought the retail price down. What was once a costly item can now be had for $1.99-$5.95 a pound. (The price varies with the outlet and the size of the box or bag--bigger is cheaper.) Some labels state prominently that the product was grown in California, but in other cases it is necessary to check the small print to learn where the rice was packed. A few California brand names are Deer Creek, which is Vince Vanderford's company; Spring Valley, McFadden Farm, L-M Ranch, Lundberg, Gibbs, Fall River, Sorrenti, Hinode and Great Valley.