No Partridge, No Pear Tree,
So We Had Quail For Christmas. Great Idea!
Just a few days before there would be six people at our Yuletide table,
Judy said G&G Market was offering six-packs of quail. I said “Uh, huh.”
She figured, based on history, that would be the end of that; but it
I’d never cooked quail, but an Italian cookbook said to brown and then
braise them in chicken broth and white wine with green grapes. I use
recipes as a launch pad for lateral thinking, so my version browns the
birds in bacon fat in a heavy iron skillet in which chopped onions have
been sauteed. I made them browner than the birds in the book’s photo.
I then returned the onions to the pan along with a big handful of pitted
sour cherries, adding six ounces of little white cocktail onions which I’d
caramelized using a bit of brown sugar. Though I usually am stingy with
braising liquid, I used equal amounts of a drinkable chardonnay and
chicken broth — both of which had been reduced to a bit less than half
the original amount — to bathe the birds up to their midlines.
The braising took about 40 minutes at a slow-moderate boil in a wide
Revere saucepan. Half way through, I turned the birds over. They emerged
well done, ready to be arranged on a single ovenproof dinner plate, oddly
spraddled and uplifted little legs thrusting out toward the edge of the
plate. I guess I expect all fowl to assume the fetal position; quail do
I used a bit of cornstarch moistened with heavy cream to thicken the pan
juice somewhat; this was put onto the plate with the onions and cherries
and the assemblage was kept warm in an oven. At serving time I broiled the
quail briefly. This multi-stage assemblage technique is one I use a lot.
Only Judy had known what we were offering as our entree, after a mixed
salad. So the dish was a real stunner and of course a total surprise. One
guest, wide-eyed and just a tad apprehensive, did venture, “Whaaaat is
THIS?” Even the mostly-vegetarian guests enjoyed the chesty little
creatures, some of them showing off their teeny, liberated wishbones, less
than the size of a postage stamp.
What would you serve with such a dish? I offered small wedges of a
single roasted carnival squash, a dish of green beans with baby carrots,
a brown and wild rice pilaf, a chardonnay and a cabernet sauvignon. I’d
intended to offer made-from-scratch focaccia with olive oil; but was too
busy. It probably was just as well; none of us is gorging on food these
days, even at parties.
This was a whole lot of fun. My sister, Jan, asked from Medina, New
York, when I told her all this, “You got pictures, didn’t you?” Sheesh;
might have known I’d forget something! What a meal!
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