Flavor Trips: Little birds

I spent this past Monday playing with quail in the kitchen. The experience yielded some interesting things. First of all, they’re so damn tiny and delicate. Your thumb and forefinger move ever so slightly while the bird is in your clutches, and you feel SNAP, CRACKLE, POP while its little bones break and bend. I eat quail often, but had never prepared it myself. I chose a recipe from Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc book; it involved marinating the bird in a pomegranate-juice-based marinade, then cooking it either on the grill or by pan. I chose the pan-roasting cooking method.

The recipe was good, but a tad flawed because it left out some helpful pieces of information. First of all, the recipe didn’t call for a defined amount of salt, nor did it even call for “salt to taste.” It’s bad when recipes fail to mention salt–I ended up seasoning them just before they went into the pan, but a recipe should state when to season because it does matter, and it’s a helpful reminder to home cooks (how many contestants on  Top Chef get reprimanded for under-seasoning? And those are professional chefs with extensive training–I cook at home). Removed from marinade, bits wiped off, briefly dipped in oil, then into a pan warmed to medium they went, breast-side down. But because these birds are so small and have tiny fronts that puff up, they don’t lay down easily on the breast-side; they want to flop over. As I found out after through research, that’s why it’s good to butterfly them for pan cooking–it helps them sit and cook evenly and quickly. The recipe would have been better with that step. So the birds were too-darkly browned on the outside on certain parts, and still slightly raw on the inside as opposed to the medium rare that I wanted. I had to finish them in the oven to fix the raw, and was then satisfied with the taste. Despite the missteps, the birds were good–we loved the flavor that the marinade gave them, which were flavors of pomegranate, serrano pepper, shallot, onion and sage. Next time, I’ll butterfly the birds; that should help a lot.

In the meantime, I continue to hone my risotto skills. Fortunately my bird’s accompaniment–flavored this time with a light saffron broth–went off without a hitch and was quite good, and creamier than the last batch. I find that I thoroughly enjoy making risotto. The transformation of the grains in the pot is mesmerizing…

Risotto: early toasting stage

Early liquid additions

Yellowed with saffron and stock

Final stir!

Weaving its way through the evening–before, during, and after the meal–was a Caymus Special Selection Cabernet. It was with a happy and heavy heart that this cheap date swallowed the last drop of her Nth glass.

The birds, rice and Cab were followed by 10-year-old tawny port, and sweets picked out by my other half from Hollywood’s Chocolada Bakery & Cafe. All in all a fun way to spend the 14th of February.

Bottle, cradled and admired the next day. Empty, sadly...


  • Anthony Kimber

    February 17, 2011

    Love the attention to the little things, D. The toasting of the risotto , before the 1st liquid addition, the drying off of the marinated birds……most wouldn’t bother. If you do butterfly them next time….Once they are flat in the pan, where you are cooking one side…..place a slight weight on the units…this spreads out the surface to be cooked. You often see this when latinos are doing pollo on the grill. I feel it cooks the surface even more evenly. The meal looks awesome, I certainly would have cleaned my plate. I can see Val must have been hovering over you , like a hawk. Dutiful hubby , I say! O Canada! Kudos, on another in a long succession of home-made tasties!

    • sunnyglobaldiva

      February 18, 2011

      Thanks for the suggestion of weighting the meat once it’s on there, Anthony–makes sense. And you’re right, he did hover for a while, but made himself useful a few times, lol 😉


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