Braised Quail with Figs, Onions, and Squash:
Last night we cooked 4 more quail my father had given us. In addition to the quail, he handed me a recipe from Hugh Acheson, and mentioned a few alterations he had made to the recipe. Being the inveterate fiddler that I am, I took his suggestions and added a few more of my own.
I was fully prepared to have some of my alterations backfire on me, and if they did, I was going to have to mention that any problems were due to me, and that nothing should be taken away from the quality of the original recipe. However, dinner turned out to be one of those “WOW” experiences, and we both agree that you could be served this meal in any fine restaurant and be extraordinarily pleased. Kudos to Chef Acheson for the combination of ingredients and techniques!
Changes I made:
I substituted dried mission figs for dates, something recommended to me by my father. This substitution was amazing. I picked out 8 figs, 2 for each quail, and cut them in half. Then I put them in a mug, covered them with water, and microwaved that for 40 seconds. Then I let them sit while I worked on the rest of the recipe, and eventually added them to the mix in the pan.
I didn’t see leeks this week when we picked up produce, so I got 6 small green onions, using the whites and pale green. I also used a white granex onion we got at the Farmer’s Market this week.
I threw in a slivered clove of garlic when I was heating the oil. I let the oil heat up, and when the garlic was caramel brown, I seared the quail, more on the back than the breasts, then set them aside.
And lastly, I took 2 fresh local small pattycake yellow squash, cut them into wedges and threw them in with the rest of the stuff. The squash aren’t ours (we’re going to have to wait another week for our own squash) but it is that time of year, and I couldn’t resist.
I used dried thyme, parsley, and 1 bay leaf from the jar, and just added them to the pan. I fished the bay leaf out before serving.
I used peanut oil instead of olive oil. I would think that olive oil would work just fine, but I like the smoke point on my peanut oil. Walnut oil or any of several other oils might work just as fine and bring a different highlight to the dish. I also used a ¼ cup instead of just 2 tablespoons.
I did the whole dish in a heavy straight-sided pan with a lid, and cooked it on top of the stove. I added the onions and figs to the garlic and oil (after I browned and removed the quail), tossed in the herbs, poured in the cider and cooked it for 3 minutes, then added the chicken stock and the quail back, and then I cooked it for 22 minutes.
At this point, the quail were done perfectly. I pulled them out with tongs, then scooped out all the veggies with a large slotted spoon. I combined 1 tablespoon arrowroot, 2 tablespoons of flour, and a good half cup of chicken broth and stirred them into a liquid slurry. When they were combined well, I poured this into the pan with all the liquid there, and turned the heat up for about a minute, stirring constantly. This resulted in a fine brown quail gravy with lovely flavors from the figs, onions, garlic, and herbs.
Lastly, I placed the quail on a plate, ladled veggies over them, and paired them with mashed potatoes and baby lima beans. The meal was fabulous, and we served the other open hard cider (I used Scrumpy’s) with the dinner.
The original recipe, unaltered by me:
Braised Quail with Leeks, Dates, and Cider
by Chef Hugh Acheson
4 quail, gutted and cleaned
Freshly ground black pepper
2 squash-ball-size yellow onions, peeled and halved
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 medium leeks, whites and pale greens only, cleaned and diced to ½ inch (about 2 cups)
½ cup pitted and chopped Medjool dates (about 6 dates)
Bouquet garni of thyme, parsley, and bay leaf (4 sprigs each fresh thyme and flat-leaf parsley, and 1 fresh bay leaf, tied together with kitchen twine)
1 cup hard apple cider
1 cup chicken stock
Rinse quail under cool running water, dry on paper towels, and season liberally with salt and pepper. Stuff half an onion into the body cavity of each bird, and truss it by tying together the drumsticks with kitchen twine. In a Dutch oven over medium-high heat, warm the olive oil to just below smoking. Gently add all the quail, and crisp on each breast side, about 2 minutes per side, and then brown the back as well. Remove the quail from the pot and set aside.
Using the same pot, lower heat to medium, add the leeks, and cook until the leeks begin to soften (stirring frequently), about 5 minutes. Add the chopped dates, the bouquet garni, and the cider. Cook the cider down for about 3 minutes, and add the chicken stock and the quail. Let the liquid come almost to a boil, cover, and turn the heat down so the cooking liquid is barely simmering, cooking until quail are done, about 15 to 20 minutes. Remove quail and reduce cooking liquid until slightly thickened, about 3 to 5 minutes. Spoon liquid over the quail before serving.