Cooking quail a tasty feast not for birdbrains

Posted: Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The street got lucky the other day when one of our neighbors was given a unique gift. Bobby Braswell received a pile of quail.

Lucky for us, there must have been more than 30 birds — enough for a feast. It was especially lucky for those of us cooking them; the quail were plucked, cleaned and frozen.

So, the obvious question was, how do you prepare quail?

We discovered they can be prepared many different ways. We chose three: smoking, marinating and using a dry rub on the birds.

Two-thirds of the birds were marinated in a mixture of olive oil, garlic, salt and white pepper. Half of those birds were then smoked for 60 to 90 minutes at 225 degrees. The other half we grilled.

For the rest, we hit the books and found a delicious sounding recipe — Coffee-and-Spice Rubbed Quail with Vanilla-Scented Sauce — from American Game Cooking by John Ash and Sid Goldstein.

I like this one because it's an example of how to come up with recipes. The rub and sauce combination pairs familiar flavors — coffee and vanilla. Many people start their mornings with theseflavors. Why not incorporate them in a dish?

If you've never used coffee as a rub, consider it. I've been dusting steaks with ground coffee beans and crushed black pepper for about ayear, after a friend suggested it. It tastes wonderful. Just use alight hand; you need not coat the steak.

This recipe comes in two parts. The rub called for sesame seeds, peppercorns, coriander seed, cloves andcinnamon to be toasted in a 300-degree oven for 25 minutes. The original recipe called for juniper berries, but we omitted them when we couldn't find them at the local grocery store. Hey, no one had ever tasted the original recipe, so no one would know the juniper berries were missing.

We then ground the ingredients into a powder in a coffee mill.

Because I had 10 birds, I tripled the recipe and coated the quail Shake n Bake style by pouring the rub in a plastic bag, followed by a few quail. Once I had coated them all, I covered them and placed them in the refrigerator for a couple of hours.

We made the sauce about an hour before we were ready to cook. It involved sauteing shallots and mushrooms until lightly browned, and adding chicken stock and wine to that and cooking over medium highheat until reduced by half. Then we added heavy cream and 3 tablespoons of vanilla extract and heated it until it coated the back of a spoon.

We then strained the sauce and added butter. We added lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste. The sauce stayed warm over a warm water bath until we were ready to use it.

The warm water bath was a pot of water brought to a steady simmer, and we placed a bowl containing the sauce on top of that. (Make sure not to let the sauce bowl touch the water, and give the sauce an occasional stir.)

We then grilled the marinated and rubbed quail over medium high heat on a gas grill. The birds were small, so they cooked quickly. Have a cool zone on the grill where the birds can be placed when they cookthrough. They should measure 160 degrees on an instant-read thermometer.

We presented all of the birds on a large platter. Mine were generously slathered with the sauce.

Who knew such little birds could provide such a big feast?

Coffee-and-Spice Rubbed Quail with Vanilla-Scented Sauce

1 tablespoon white sesame seed 12 black peppercorns 20 coriander seeds 3 whole cloves One 1/2-inch piece cinnamon stick 1 bay leaf 3 tablespoons freshly ground dark roast coffee 1 tablespoon salt 2 teaspoons sugar 12 quail, backs removed 3 tablespoons olive oil


3 tablespoons unsalted butter 3 tablespoons chopped shallots 1/2 cup sliced fresh mushrooms 3 cups chicken stock or broth 1 cup dry white wine (preferably Chardonnay)

2/3 cup heavy cream 2 teaspoons vanilla extract Fresh lemon juice to taste Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste Heat oven to 300 degrees. On a baking sheet, arrange the sesame seeds, peppercorns, coriander seeds, cloves and cinnamon in separate piles. Toast until the seeds are golden, about 25 minutes. Using a spice grinder, finely grind the toasted spices and the bay leaf. Add coffee, salt and sugar and continue grinding until pulverized.

Lightly rub spice mixture over the skin of the quail. Reserve excess rub and freeze for another use. Cover and refrigerate for 2 to 3 hours.

Make the sauce: Heat 2 tablespoons butter and saute shallots and mushrooms until lightly browned. Add stock and wine and cook over medium-high heat until reduced by half.

Add cream and vanilla and reduce over medium-high heat until a light sauce consistency (it should thinly coat the back of a spoon).

Strain. Whisk in remaining butter. Correct seasonings with lemon juice, salt and pepper. Hold the sauce in a warm-water bath until serving time, up to 2 hours.

In a saute pan, heat oil and cook quail in batches until medium-rare but still juicy and quite pink, about 21/2 minutes per side. If cooking in batches, keep warm until all the quail are cooked.

Serve 2 per person and top with sauce.

Yield: 6 servings.

Source: Adapted from American Game Cooking by John Ash and Sid Goldstein.

Dan Macdonald is a food columnist for the The Florida Times-Union, Jacksonville.

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