Special occasions.

From J., 7 December 2009, Game birds for date night?

Q: Any chance you might have an amazing recipe for quail? My friend Michael is a good Montana man who has just returned from a successful hunting trip.

He’s got a big date this week and I thought you might help him to impress the lady.
(ps from Michael: That would be great! But do you by chance have any for pheasant? Thanks for sharing!)

A: Smart move, cooking for your date. My husband likes to tell people that, until he met me, he used to get a lot of dating mileage out of his kitchen skills. And you get bonus points for securing the food yourself.

Pheasant and quail…two different birds, but one common trait. Game birds are lean, and, like all lean meats, either need to be cooked quickly on the stovetop or grill, or enriched with fat/oil for roasting. The cooking method you choose depends on the bird’s size – pheasant are better suited to roasting, and quail to quick cooking. Alternatively, you can break down the bird if it is larger (like pheasant or wild turkey) and braise the dark meat while cooking the white meat quickly, but this is more complicated and I won’t cover it here.

Let me know how it goes, and if you have questions, please write back!

Five spice quail with bitter green salad

Quail are basically finger food. I’ve watched people try to extract all the meat with a fork and knife, and it is hilarious. Just pick them up.

If you want to serve any leftover marinade as a sauce or save it for future use, you must bring it to a boil, and then boil continuously for at least five minutes. Store in a clean container.

3 large shallots, or one medium onion, fine dice
1/4 c rice wine vinegar or white wine vinegar
1/4 c dry white wine
2/3 c soy sauce, preferably a Chinese or Japanese light soy (not low sodium “lite” soy, but light or usukuchi)
1/3 c fish sauce (nuoc mam)
1/2 c water
2 tbsp palm sugar (substitute packed brown sugar)
2 star anise
1 cinnamon stick
1 tbsp five spice powder
1 tsp cracked black peppercorns
1 2-inch piece ginger, grated to a paste (or minced as finely as possible)

6-8 quail, preferably boned, but bone-in is fine
vegetable, canola, or grapeseed oil
3 tbsp unsalted butter, very cold, divided into chunks

Bitter green salad

1/4 lb arugula, washed and spun dry
1/4 lb watercress, leaves only, washed and spun dry
1 tbsp sherry vinegar
1 tsp dijon mustard
1/4 c olive oil or a mild nut oil (like hazelnut or walnut)
black pepper and salt

Advance prep note: you may prepare the marinade up to three days in advance, or more if you freeze it. The quail need to marinate at least three hours, up to overnight. Three to eight is optimal – more than eight and the quail can become too salty.

Place the shallots, vinegar, and wine in a small pan and bring to a simmer; reduce to au sec (until the wine and vinegar have reduced almost to a sticky glaze on the bottom of the pan – do not burn). Add the soy, fish sauce, water, sugar, ginger, and spices, and bring back to a simmer; simmer until reduced by 1/3. Strain through a very fine strainer or one lined with cheesecloth. Discard solids.

Place the quail in a bowl and cover with the marinade. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator, turning if necessary to coat evenly. Before cooking, remove the quail to a plate and pat dry. Strain the marinade again and place in a small saucepan; bring back to a boil and reduce by 3/4. Remove from heat and add the cold chunks of butter, swirling the pan to incorporate and taking care that the butter does not separate. Set aside off heat away from the quail. If you are adept you can perform this step as the quail cook.

Place a large skillet over medium high heat and, when hot, add oil to the pan. Place the quail on their sides in the pan. After about 3-4 minutes, when browned, flip over. Cook another 3 minutes or so. Remove to a plate to rest and then slice the quail lengthwise down the breastbone (a kitchen shears works well). Serve with the salad and a spoon of sauce under the quail.

Variant: For a simpler dish, serve the quail with the following instead of the salad and sauce:

1 carrot, shredded
several red radishes, sliced very thinly (use a mandoline or even a vegetable peeler to slice)
large handful mint leaves, washed and spun dry
handful cilantro leaves, washed and spun dry

Roast pheasant with pinot reduction

The traditional way to roast pheasant is to bard the bird – that is, to baste it with fatback or bacon while roasting, at least in the initial stage. I’m actually not a huge fan of using bacon because, since bacon is smoked and cured, it lends its own intense flavor to the dish and sometimes you don’t want that taste. I have found that thinly sliced pork belly works better than bacon as fresh pork fat has a fresh, clean taste.

I’m not going to ask you to slice your own pork belly, though. Instead, baste the bird with butter. The key is to baste under the skin – this is most important at the breast, where the meat is leanest. You will need to loosen the skin from the flesh at the cavity, not the neckline, and work gently, so you don’t rip the skin. Don’t worry about rubbing the butter over the flesh or adding it evenly – it will melt as it heats.

This recipe serves four. Halve it for two, but you may want to make the entire amount of butter just in case.

2 pheasant, 3 lb each, aged if wild-caught, cleaned
6 oz (3/4 stick) unsalted butter
1 tsp kosher salt
leaves from 6 sprigs thyme, about 1 1/2 tsp
4-6 sage leaves, minced, about 1 1/2 tsp
about 1 tsp minced rosemary leaves
3-4 additional sprigs thyme
1 lemon, quartered
1 small onion, quartered
neck and wing tips from the pheaant
4c chicken stock or canned broth
1 small carrot, cut into chunks
1 stalk celery, diced

For the sauce:

2 large shallots or one small onion, minced
2 c pinot noir
juice from 1 orange
2 inch strip of orange peel, being careful to avoid any white pith
1 bay leaf
1 star anise
pinch five spice powder
1 1-inch segment of cinnamon stick
2 c enriched stock from step 1 of the recipe
4 tbsp unsalted butter, very cold, divided into chunks

Oven 400F

Prepare the pheasant. Cut the wing tips off the bird. In a saucepot, heat a small amount of oil and brown the wings and the neck (if available) on both sides. Add the diced carrot and celery, and then the chicken stock/broth. Simmer for at least two hours and strain.

About 1h 30 minutes before serving, combine the 6 tbsp butter, salt, and herbs in a small bowl with a fork. Gently loosen the skin of the pheasant at the cavity and tuck chunks of butter under the skin particularly at the breast, but also in the leg/thigh if possible. Rub any remaining butter on the skin of the birds; if you have none, drizzle some olive oil on the skin of the birds and rub in. Place two lemon quarters, two onion quarters, and a couple branches of thyme in the cavity of each pheasant.

Add half a cup of water to the bottom of a roasting pan. Roast the birds on a well-oiled rack, first on one side for 30 minutes, then on the other side for 30 minutes, and then breast up to finish for 10. Baste the skin with the melted butter in the pan each time you turn the birds. If you use a convection setting, reduce times by about 5 minutes each. If your birds weigh less than 3 lbs each, reduce roasting time accordingly. Rest birds at least 15 mins before carving.

Meanwhile, prepare the sauce.

Place the shallots and wine in a small pan and bring to a simmer; reduce to au sec (until the wine has reduced almost to a sticky glaze on the bottom of the pan – do not burn). Given the volume of wine this may take about 20 minutes.

Add the stock, orange juice, spices, bay leaf, and orange peel; simmer until reduced by 3/4. This may take another 15-20 minutes. Strain through a fine sieve (line with cheesecloth if necessary). Discard solids.

Return to a clean small pan and bring back just to a simmer, stirring well. Remove from heat and add the cold chunks of butter, swirling the pan to incorporate and taking care that the butter does not separate. Set aside off heat. Taste for seasoning (it should not require salt but if it does, add some).

Carve the bird and serve with the sauce and the accompaniment of your choice. I would serve this with a simple dish of brussels sprouts and pancetta, or a celeriac purée. If you don’t know your date’s tastes, you might want to play it safer and serve it with a simple potato purée.

Potato purée

1 lb russet potatoes (or more)
unsalted butter
salt and white pepper

Boil the potatoes in their skins. Drain. When cool, peel the potatoes, discard the skin, and press the flesh through a potato ricer into a pan. Set over medium-low heat and, stirring with a wooden spoon or incorporating with a potato masher, add about 1/2 c milk per pound of potatoes. Incorporate butter, as much as you like (I generally add a minimum of 2 oz or 4 tbsp butter/pound of potatoes), stirring or mashing. Add 1 tsp salt at first and then more to taste.

One thought on “Special occasions.

  1. Pingback: Impressing a date with food you shot yourself, roasting beef in a salt crust, and more. « The Upstart Kitchen

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