Friday, February 1, 2013

Pan-seared Quail with Black Pudding & Soft Polenta



With all the hooves and bellies and organs I've been cooking lately, I thought it would be nice to cook something small, dainty and inoffensive (and I mean 'inoffensive' in the most relative of ways). So I found the smallest and daintiest of beasts I think one can cook: a quail. However, me being me, I couldn't just cook this little bird without putting my own spin on it; so I covered it in crumbled blood pudding. Anyway, if you've never cooked quail before, you should really give it a go. Quail are game birds and have a wonderfully rich flavoured dark meat that is reminiscent of duck. They are very small and I figure you could probably put two of these little creatures on your plate if you were particularly hungry. In the case of my family, the wife and I enjoyed three between us and the children shared a single bird.

Bringing to mind the grim, sepia-tinted image of Bob Cratchit and his large family picking over a single scrawny old goose on Christmas day (that was certainly more onion stuffing than meat), a small gamey bird like quail shouldn't be seen as an austere meal. In a modern sense, this is really all the meat anyone ever needs as long as you have some polenta to fill up on. Now unlike this tucker in Dickensian London, we like to properly 'plate up' our dinner so that modest food can look grand, even when it's just the wife and kids. Perhaps it's silly, but it is one of those small things that keep me sane in a rather insane world. Nevertheless, the plating in the accompanying photo does look a little chefy, and that drizzle of olive oil to finish it: real Italian and French cooks scratch there heads about that - it's such an Anglo thing to do. Although admittedly I love that finishing drizzle. Jamie Oliver seems incapable of NOT doing this and would likely drizzle finishing oil on a slice of rhubarb pie if he could.

I picked up four Quail from the butcher shop for a tenner, and along with a little blood pudding and some creamy polenta I had a significant amount of food on my table for very little money. The one caveat: tiny birds are harder to eat than large birds. Wee little bones may get stuck in the teeth. The drum stick is difficult to grasp between large, clumsy adult fingers. These are essentially hobbit-sized chickens. Ones best approach to cooking these little birds is to bone them out, allowing for more confident (and safer) mastication. I know, again, here I go with the tricky de-boning techniques - I do this on purpose, it's such great practice for aspiring cooks. Anyway, you can also just spatchcock them, but that keel bone and the ribs and such will really get in your way, so I think it's best to bone out the main part of the carcass and then you can go from there. Take out the wish bone first, then you basically have to cut the wing articulation and then 'peel' the body off the carcass...carefully. I leave the wings and the leg bones in but remove everything else - use the tiny bones to make a tiny pot of soup (fit for an under-the-weather hobbit). If it were 1993, you'd likely stuff the de-boned quail with wild rice or chicken mousse or something like that. But it is not 1993, so the best thing to do is simply pan sear the boneless bird with a few simple accoutrements. Let the food speak for itself. This is honest cooking. This is what I like to think is contemporary cooking. Anyway, if you want to know how to bone out a quail, watch Jacques Pepin do it here. He is probably the best boner out there. Heh.

So, other than the tricky boning part, quails are dead easy to cook. I marinated mine over night in olive oil, lemon zest, fresh thyme and sliced shallots just for fun. You don't have to do that. Either way, to cook them, put them in a medium hot frying pan with some olive oil, breast side down. Frizzle them for about five or six minutes, than flip and put in a hot oven for a further five or six minutes. Then let them rest a wee bit. I served mine on soft polenta for which I'm sure you know how to cook. I've written at length about my love of black pudding on this blog: crumble it into some hot butter and get it crispy. Assemble the dish anyway you like. I mixed a bit of reduced red wine with the pan juices and some HP sauce - an interesting tasting jus, but one I'll likely not make again. Despite what the Welsh might think, like olive oil drizzled on rhubarb pie, HP sauce can be an error in judgement, as it was in this case.

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