Last Updated: May 24, 2021
We’re certainly absolutely familiar with our common proteins—chicken, fish, pork, and beef. But dig a lil’ deeper into the poultry family and you’ll discover the world of fowl meat that’s lesser seen on our plates. Much of these “exotic” meats would appear in higher-end dining menus, not at the disposable of the average family’s cooking, but haven’t you ever wanted to find out more about these game birds?
To start, chicken is a type of poultry, and when we mention fowl, we actually refer to a larger umbrella term for birds. In fact, chickens are considered domesticated birds that are kept for eggs or meat, while a fowl can be any kind of bird, several domesticated or wild gallinaceous (an order of heavy-bodied ground-feeding birds) birds. To clear the air on what separates a pheasant from a quail, these are handy information about 7 types of fowls that’ll help you become a more discerning diner.
In the culinary world, a young domestic pigeon (or its meat) is referred to as squab and is typically under four weeks old. The meat is mostly described as tasting like chicken, but heavier and richer. The term, squab, is probably of Scandinavian origin, where the Swedish word ‘skvabb‘ means ‘loose, fat flesh’. In fact, as we all know how common pigeons are today, this bird has always been an attractive prospect as food, due to being a quick, easy-to-find source of protein. For example, the eating of pigeon was especially favourable during war when meat was scarce or strictly rationed.
Of course, times have changed and shooting down a pigeon in the city is not only illegal, but the pigeons we have around Singapore have diets that are more acclimatised to urban life and have the potential to carry diseases.
Pigeon meat tends to darken with age so, when procuring wild birds, it’s best to buy pigeon with paler flesh for quick-cooking methods. Young farmed squab also have tender flesh with a delicate flavour. It is often said that if a pigeon is old enough to fly, it’s too old to eat—but please don’t quote me on that.
Squabs are much smaller, hence, they take less time to cook. They are typically sold whole with their feathers, head, feet, and innards removed, but can easily be broken down by cutting into halves or quarters or cooked whole. Squabs are great proteins to be roasted whole, sometimes stuffed, but can also be fried, grilled, or braised.
Older pigeons tend to have tough, gamey meat—thanks to their active flying. This makes them good candidates for low and slow cooking like stewing and braising.
You can buy pigeon meat here.
Did you know? Pheasants originate from Asia, only making their entry into Europe in the 11th century. They then became acclimatised and reared and were particularly prized by knights (probably because of their coloured feathers). When it came to rearing, the estates of nobles became the home of many pheasantries.
The pheasant was later introduced in the United States, once in 1790, but unsuccessfully. It took an entire century later, for its success to stick—in Oregon—where it quickly adapted to its new environment, and pheasant farms became as common in North America as they were in Europe.
Pheasants produce meat that is lean and white—much like chicken but with a gamier profile. These birds are easy to butcher with most people choosing its breast meat since there isn’t a lot anywhere else on the bird. You can also raise pheasants for egg production. Pheasant meat adds depth to curries with its rich gaminess, particularly if it has been hung and dried for several days.
A pheasant can be roasted (particularly if it is young), or even stuffed, and can be cooked in a stew, as a whole bird or cut into pieces. It is often necessary to marinate an old bird. Bacon and other smoked meats, as well as wild mushrooms, make for ideal accompaniments. On the flip sides, it can pair excellently with fruit (apples, pears, plums), and truffles.
Quail can be found living in grassy fields, cropland, and meadow habitats. Wild Japanese quail live in East Asia, Russia, and parts of Africa, and some populations show to be migratory. They feed mainly on grass seeds, but also eat small insects. These small birds are slaughtered at five weeks old for their meat, and unfortunately, the majority of commercial quail farming involves them being reared in battery cages or densely populated barns.
It is common to eat quails completely with the bones intact since these are easily chewed and their miniature size makes them inconvenient to remove. Apart from chickens, we often see quail eggs being used in restaurants and perhaps, even in your own home.
But listing its uses aside, quail meat is considered to be an even healthier alternative to the commonplace chicken. Quail meat has four times more Vitamin C and three times more iron than chicken meat. In fact, it even has 4% more iron than beef sirloin. Need more reasons to try that quail dish on the menu? Quail meat has Vitamin A whereas chicken meat has none, with quail rating significantly higher in minerals and amino acids than chicken meat.
Similar to chicken, you can easily roast and grill them easily—and quickly. Given its size, you won’t need to spend too long cooking them, and you won’t want to either if you want to avoid drying out the meat.
You can buy quail meat here.
When it comes to the fowl family, they are split into landfowls and waterfowls, with ducks falling into the latter camp. Waterfowls have heavier fat deposits in their skins to protect them from cold weather, making them tender, juicier, and naturally more flavourful. We also know that duck gets a less-than-savoury reputation of being fatty, but, in fact, most of this fat is actually found on the skin and can be removed during preparation or cooking.
Considering duck fat can be removed, duck meat is a great healthier alternative to meats with fat content that is not as easily cooked or sliced off. Its nutrient density also is considerably higher when compared to chicken, which means even a small portion makes for a bigger percentage of your daily values. Oh, to answer your question if duck is regarded as white or red meat, it’s typically seen as red meat due to its migratory nature and long-distance flying (flying requires more blood distribution, resulting in dark meat).
If you’re planning to cook duck at home, remember these three useful tips:
Similarly to beef, duck is often prepared medium-rare and served slightly pink on the inside.
You can buy duck meat here.
Goose meat is certainly one of the most intense fowl meats you can choose to cook with. For starters, it’s darker, fuller-bodied, and more intensely flavoured than turkey. It is also fattier and gamier than duck. Of all fowls, goose meat offers the most opportunities to match with wine—betcha didn’t know that, huh?
These days, geese are slaughtered relatively young—four to six months old—while older birds are considered tough and the meat should ideally be tenderised before cooking (through marination and ageing) before cooking. Fun fact: young geese are called ‘goslings’—yes, like the devilishly good-looking actor.
Goose is a popular alternative to turkey during Christmas, so if you’re planning to experiment with roasting a goose during any festivity, remember this: its extra fat layer, and the fact that it’s bonier, with a large rib cage, means that weight for weight, a goose will feed fewer people than a turkey.
While there aren’t many breeds of geese that lay eggs, those that do will get you eggs twice the size of hens’ and even more nutritious.
As a bird that’s sufficiently packed with fat (no shade here; just facts), the most favourable way to cook goose is to confit it, just like we would duck. Of course, there’s no comparison to the popularity of foie gras (goose liver), but we do realise the ethical issues that stem from raising goose for this much-prized part. For best results at home, be sure to cook your goose on a wire or roasting rack inside a roasting tin, to allow the fat to drain, after which, you can always use that golden elixir to cook roasted potatoes.
You can buy goose meat here.
We’re confident you’re familiar with turkey as the big bird that sits roasted in the centre of your dining table for Christmas—or Thanksgiving, if you celebrate it. But there’s more to this large bird than just causing one an intense food coma. For one, it can be classified as both dark and white meat. The turkey’s breast meat is white and contains less fat than the dark meat. Turkeys use their legs continuously, which is why the thighs and drumsticks are sources of flavourful, vitamin- and mineral-rich dark meat.
It’s certainly a protein powerhouse; just a single serving of turkey (100g) makes up half of your recommended daily protein intake.
Wild turkeys differ in taste from farm-raised turkeys, in spite of their familiar breeds. Almost all wild turkey meat is dark (including the breast) with a more intense flavour. This flavour can also vary seasonally with changes in diet (due to change in vegetation), with a gamier flavour in late summer.
Most recipes will call for turkeys to be roasted in the oven, but to avoid its notoriety for drying out, there are few ways to go about it. For one, try to opt for a fresh turkey if possible. Also, remember to brine the turkey beforehand; if you know your way around a kitchen, you know the magic of brining.
Another trick is to rub soft butter under its skin so that, while it’s cooking, the butter melts and bastes the meat at the same time. Better yet, add some herbs to the butter and the result will be beautifully buttery, flavourful turkey.
You can buy turkey meat here.
Not much is known here, locally, about guinea fowls. To start, they are endemic to Africa and rank among the oldest of the gallinaceous birds. Its taste is known to be close to white chicken but only subtly gamey—without being excessively overpowering.
Female guinea fowl provides more tender meat than males, and because of their small size (about 1kg -1.3kg), they are typically sold whole.
Consuming guinea fowl meat is a healthier choice due to its low cholesterol content as well as low-fat content. But do take note, that guinea fowl meat is dryer and leaner than chicken meat. Many people raise guinea fowls for their eggs, which are higher in protein than regular chicken eggs as they have shown to produce more yolk than egg white.
Because guinea fowls are quite lean, they should ideally be basted during cooking to prevent them from drying out. An alternative would be to wrap the bird in streaky bacon before roasting. Also, it’s normal for the meat to be a little pink when it’s done. There’s also the option of braising them, which helps in locking in moisture, even when cooking for a long period of time.
One guinea fowl should be sufficient to feed two.
You can buy guinea fowl meat here.
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