Guinea hen crostone with liver and pancetta sauce
To prepare hens: rinse them and pat dry with paper towels. Cut legs from thighs at joint. Place thighs in a nonreactive baking dish. Season thighs with salt and pepper, cover dish with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight to cure, or for at least several hours.
To braise guinea thighs: pour flour on a plate or into a pie pan. Dredge guinea hen thighs in flour, patting off excess flour. In a Dutch oven or high-sided sauté pan large enough to hold thighs in a single layer, heat 1/4 cup olive oil over medium-high heat until oil is almost smoking and slides easily in pan, 2 to 3 minutes. Place guinea thighs skin-side down in pan and cook until golden brown, about 5 minutes per side, taking care not to rip skin when you turn them. Remove thighs to a plate and wipe out pan.
Add 1/4 cup oil and heat it for about 1 minute, until oil is almost smoking. Add pancetta and cook to render fat but not brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Add onions and garlic. Add sage and rosemary and season with freshly ground black pepper. (Don’t add salt to sauce because salt on thighs and in pancetta is sufficient.) Cook herbs with onions and garlic for about 1 minute, stirring often, to soften herbs.
Add livers, wine, lemon juice, capers, vinegar and 4 cups stock to pan. Return guinea thighs to pan skin-side up and add any juices that have collected on plate on which they were resting. If there is not enough liquid to liberally cover guinea thighs, add more stock as needed. Bring liquid to a simmer over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer guinea thighs, uncovered, until they are fork-tender and meat pulls away from bone easily, 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Remove pan from heat and carefully remove thighs to a plate. When thighs are cool enough to handle, remove bone from each thigh, taking care to keep thighs intact. Discard bones. (You can braise guinea hen to this point up to 5 days in advance of serving it. Transfer thighs and liquid to separate airtight containers and refrigerate until you are ready to serve them. Remove and discard fat from top of braising liquid. Transfer it to a medium saucepan and proceed with recipe.)
Return pan to high heat and bring liquid to a boil. Boil sauce, stirring occasionally to prevent it from sticking to bottom of pan, until it has reduced by half and is consistency of thin gravy, 10 to 20 minutes. Pour 2 cups sauce into bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade or jar of a blender, taking care not to fill bowl or jar more than halfway, as hot liquid will expand. Holding a towel, keep lid tight, if you are using a blender, and begin blending at a low speed, increasing slowly to prevent an explosion. Purée until sauce is smooth. Return puréed sauce to pan and stir to incorporate. Turn off heat, taste for seasoning and add salt or lemon juice, if desired.
Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Use olive oil to grease a baking dish just large enough to hold slices in a single layer. Lay bread in baking dish and ladle remaining 1 cup stock evenly over bread. Place baking dish in oven and bake bread until bottom is golden brown and crisp, about 15 minutes. To check for doneness, lift a corner of bread with a spatula, taking care as it tends to stick to pan and you don’t want to leave crunchy bits in pan.
Make garnish while bread is toasting: combine parsley, celery leaves and lemon zest in a medium bowl. Drizzle leaves with finishing-quality olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt and toss gently to coat with seasonings.
Remove toasts from oven and carefully remove them from baking dish, making sure not to leave crispy part in dish. Place piece of toast bottom-side up on a dinner plate and rest 2 guinea thighs on each piece of toast. Ladle a generous 1/2 cup sauce over each thigh so it runs off into crostone. Pile garnish on each thigh, dividing it evenly, and serve crostone with remaining sauce on side.
Pane rustica can be substituted with another large, flat loaf of rustic white bread, such as ciabatta, or 8 slices from a bâtard or fat baguette.