Not-So-Strange Birds Part II: Roast Quail with Soda Bread Stuffing and Red Wine Reduction

posted in: Recipes | 6

According to Wikipedia, the quail is a “mid-sized” bird in the pheasant family. Jesus, what do the very small ones look like? I wondered, after carefully unwrapping the quail from plastic and placing it on my cutting board. I couldn’t help imagining my grade-school pet parakeet sans feathers.

Due to my horrified friends’ reactions to photos of this scene when I uploaded them to my Flickr account, I’ve been swayed from including an image of the whole, raw bird here. (Yes, it still had feet, like the D’Artagnan pheasant. Sure, you may view it here.) Now, I’ve cooked squab once before with a certain meat-lover. This is essentially a domestic pigeon, so if you live in a city especially, you’ll know exactly what size that entails. But this quail was something else. I had never seen a smaller bird grace my countertop. Moreover, I’d been told that I was getting a “jumbo” quail from D’Artagnan, so my expectations were slightly skewed. D’Artagnan’s jumbo quail range from 5-7 ounces, while regular whole quail weighs in at 4.5 ounces each. Given that a whole squab weighs roughly one pound, according to their website, I was indeed looking at the smallest bird I’d ever set out to cook — by more than a half.

That said, the quail boasts a plumper shape than a pigeon, with a robust breast and tiny, slender legs that make it resemble a pheasant, only shrunken down Rick Moranis-style. Unlike my Flickr friends, I thought it was a thing of beauty.

leeks and bacon are quickly sauteed with the soda bread

But strange? Nah. Well, not to me anymore, at least. Quail has been a popular upscale restaurant menu item for a long while, especially in French cuisine. You might remember Catherine Zeta-Jones mumbling to her psychiatrist in No Reservations about the perfect execution and flawless pairing of it with white truffles. Well, I don’t have any spare truffles and that’s one thing I can’t forage here in Brooklyn. And what with all the other birds I was tending to pre-Fall Harvest Feast (the party I shared the pheasant with friends at), I decided I’d give the quail simplest preparation of the lot: a rub with salt, and a quick roast.

Well, that didn’t end up happening. And I couldn’t be happier about it. Believe it or not, this bird actually had a cutely compact, round-ish cavity about the size of a golf ball. Why not pack it with a bit of stuffing, so as to make the dish a more rounded, miniature meal for one? I thought. I didn’t bring any bread to stuff it with to the party, but did have some leftover leeks and bacon from the pheasant course. Incidentally, Jordan had baked a loaf of rich, cake-like Irish soda bread to bring to the feast, and with one taste of it, I stole another slice and cut it into small cubes.

stuffing the quail’s cavity

This was quite the happy fortune. After sauteeing some chopped bacon and leeks for a couple minutes, I added the soda bread cubes along with a pinch of salt and pepper. The quail’s cavity was miraculously elastic, and managed to hold a tight handful of the stuffing, which stayed put with the help of a flap of skin while some exposed bits crisped nicely as it was roasting. It rarely gets as satisfying as the warm, fluffy stuffing that came steaming from the bird even after it had sat out for a while. Not only was the stuffing delicious, but poking it out of the quail’s cavity on one’s own plate is incredibly fun, too.

On the bottom of the plate this bird was served on, I’d spilled a small pool of creamy red wine reduction. This was cobbled together from the quail drippings and juices in the roasting pan, a splash of the red wine I was sipping and a spot of cream. And how did the quail turn out? Moist, delicate and savory, just as I had been hoping. (Those little “drumsticks” are just to die for.) Sometimes the best gifts do come in small packages.

And here’s the part I’m so proud to share: Order anything from D’Artagnan and receive a 10% discount for the rest of the year (until 12/31/08), just for reading this blog! The small farm and sustainability-oriented fine meat purveyor has kindly extended this offer so you can replicate these dishes or invent your own, all through the holidays. Enter the promo code NEOINY2008 at checkout. Thanks, D’Artagnan!

Cost Calculator
(amended for 4 servings)

4 quail (at roughly 4.5 ounces each)
1 medium leek, thinly chopped
3-4 strips bacon, chopped
about 2 cups cubed Irish soda bread (or substitute cornbread, or white bread)
1 1/2 cups red wine
1/4 cup heavy cream
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Pat quail dry and season skin all over with salt and pepper. In a large saute pan, cook the bacon on medium-high heat for about 1 minute, stirring. Add the leeks and continue stirring until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the cubed bread and season with a couple pinches each of salt and pepper. Stir for another minute, and remove from heat.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Once stuffing is cool enough to handle, stuff each quail with about 1/4 cup of the mixture, pressing it well into the cavity and securing it shut with any flaps of skin (it’s okay if there are none). Place quail breast side-up onto a large roasting pan at least one inch deep (to catch drippings). Roast the quail for about 15 minutes, or until top is just lightly browned. Remove from oven and set aside roasting pan. Scrape up all the drippings and any browned bits and transfer to a saute pan. Add the wine and bring to a boil. Cook, stirring, until liquid is reduced by about one half. Add the cream and season with salt and pepper to taste (also adding any fresh herbs you might like). Spoon evenly into the bottom of serving dishes and place each quail on top of the sauce.

Cost Calculator
(for 4 servings)

4 whole quail (4-6 ounces each) from D’Artagnan: $16.99
1 leek (at $2.75/lb): $2.00
2 cups cubed homemade Irish soda bread: about $0.50
1 1/2 cups red wine: $2.00
3 strips bacon: $1.50
1/4 cup heavy cream: $0.75

Total: $23.75

Health Factor

Seven brownie points: This is a hearty, rich, holiday-worthy dish, but you might be surprised to learn that quail, like pheasant, are relatively lean birds. Its paper-thin, roast skin is well worth the extra cholesterol if you ask me. If you decide to lower your cholesterol count you might want to skip the heavy cream in the reduction sauce. Then you can still toot red wine’s heart-healthy antioxidant horn without too much contradiction.

Green Factor

Six maple leaves: It’s no surprise by now that I heart D’Artagnan’s humane and sustainable philosophy, so to avoid sounding like a broken record, I’ll move onto the other ingredients. As with the pheasant recipe, these are few, and mostly begotten from the Greenmarket. The soda bread was homemade (thanks again, Jordan!) and if you have a stale loaf of any bread hanging about, it’s the perfect solution for stuffing — lest it go to waste.

6 Responses

  1. DJ

    Glad to see that my Irish soda bread recipe is being put to good use 🙂

  2. luv2cook

    I usually love you but ummm I am unsure about any dead animal having a red sauce. I like meat I am not a vegetarian but it seems to be bloody like the juice cutting into it if it was raw. I am glad that it tasted yummy even if I am not in love with the look of it!

  3. alex almeida

    Very useful information for breast reduction. Thanks for sharing this.

  4. Diana

    Very entertaining! I ate my first quail tonight, and needed a boost to take a bite, since it was the first time I processed my own too, that I hatched and raised. Hard to swallow, but suprisingly delicious~ I’ll have to try your recipe next time!

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