Folks may spend their time in lots of different ways this season, but everyone has enjoyed a bit more downtime. This is the period when a little more effort put into a meal goes a long way.
I wanted to try something a bit different, and happened upon a package of quail during my shopping.
The quail I purchased were tiny; I mean excruciatingly minuscule little birdies. When I picked up the package, it said there were four inside. I was wondering where they put them! I soon found out.
I was not really looking for bulk anyway, but I wanted the culinary experience. Because quail is more of a game fowl, I thought it would be good to brine them for a sukoshi before jumping right into cooking them. This proved to be a decent idea.
I started after breakfast, because I knew this might take a while to be ready for dinner.
First, I roasted 2 whole heads of garlic in the oven and set them aside. I wanted roasted garlic for this.
Also, I snapped the ends off 1lb of green beans sometime during the day. (Or snap them and freeze them whole if you buy them a bit ahead).
The birds themselves were actually pretty clean, but after a bit of trimming in spots, they went into a soak.
Below is one to try.
Combine the following in a non-reactive container having at least 3-4 quart volume capacity ( I just used a big stainless steel mixing bowl):
2 cups water (16 fl oz)
3/4 - 1 cup (6-8 fl oz) aged white wine vinegar (can use less if you don't like tanginess)
2 TB wildflower honey
3 TB alderwood smoked sea salt crystals (1 oz)
I stirred the brine up thoroughly, and got as much of the salt to dissolve as possible.
Because of the 'smoke' factor in this salt, the brine turns a darker color, but doesn't adversely affect the flesh of the fowl. I only let them soak about 5-6 hours in the fridge.
A larger piece of meat or whole bird could probably sit overnight or 24 hours or more, but these were small. When doing a brine, it is a good idea to remove them from the liquid and let them dry out an hour or two in the refrigerator, so the moisture will absorb into the flesh and the birds will brown well.
When ready to start making dinner, make sure they are dry on any account.
You may also want truss the legs with twine to keep them from drying out before the birds are done.
(Skinny legs!) But the dish will not be ruined if you don't.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
I still had some pork belly left from our cold smoke lab at school, so I cut about 2-3 oz of the bacon up in small chunks and rendered them in a very large cast iron pan to use for the quail. I let the pan get good and hot, about medium-high for a cast iron pan of that size to heat up quickly. Then I cut it back to about medium heat.
I browned them on both sides for about 6-8 minutes, checking for caramelization. The difference here, is that for the breast side, I barded them with a thick slice of the bacon once they were browned lightly the way I wanted. The quail were very lean and small, and I didn't want them to dry out during roasting. So I laid slices over them, breast side up, before sticking them in the oven with:
1 cup or 8 oz of sliced multi-color peppers and yellow onion
4-6 cloves of the roasted garlic, chopped
Use more veggies if you like, but double-check cooking time and don't overcrowd the pan. They didn't need long, about 15-20 minutes at the most. Check for doneness. They should be firm and the juices should run clear. I removed the birds and peppers from the pan and kept them warm.
At this point, I cooked the remaining fat out of the bacon slices, and deglazed the pan with a little, (2 oz) of white wine. I put in the freshly snapped fagiolini (green beans). These cooked until they were almost done, then I added 1 head of roasted garlic cloves, (or at least most of it), and a touch, (1TB) of olive oil to toss. The way I had it at Paparazzi Italian Restaurant in Raleigh, NC was with chopped walnuts, and I love walnuts, so those went in also, (about 2TB), when I was finishing.
At this point the dish can be arranged on a platter however one pleases, with nice color from all the peppers and green beans.
I actually liked the slightly tangy flavor imparted to the meat by the vinegar, and I could taste smokiness from the salt. The meat itself has a very slight sweetness and a barely there 'forest' flavor to it. A more strong vinegar would have been too much, and overpowered the actual flavor of the quail.
So this was a nice surprise, and the little dears turned out to be worth the trouble. Speaking of which, navigate cautiously around the sharp bones, and enjoy!