Saturday, November 29, 2008


In between Thanksgiving with Mom & Dad (dry-brined smoked turkey) and Thanksgiving with Matt's folks (steak and potatoes), we had a little bitty Thanksgiving with Cathy. I didn't want it to be any huge production, and I definitely didn't want the formality (or size) of a turkey, so I decided to do quail instead: like turkey, only much, much smaller. Individual nano-turkeys, if you will.

And I've never done quail before, so that was quite exciting. They're so cute! If we have to live off the land after the final, cataclysmic economic meltdown, I'm definitely raising quail. Matt says no, chickens are more practical (he has a soft spot for chickens), but I say it's important to diversify your poultry portfolio.

For all of our Thanksgivings the weather has been almost comically appropriate: chilly, grey, and moist (no substantial amount of rain, of course, but some light drizzles just to tease the plants). And the leaves are turning nicely. The nurseryman we met at Medina Gardens, the native plant nursery in Medina, said that you generally get better color in a droughty year and worse color in a wet year. Something about the sugers in the leaves being really condensed. Since then, I've been noticing a lot of color, but I'm never sure if it's because he pointed it out, or if it really is more than usual. Matt, who is less suggestible than I am, says it is indeed much better color this year. Interestingly, even the pecans are looking unusually bright and showy--an appealing clear gold color. Below is a yellow Chinese tallow in a neighbor's yard.

A neighbor's Chinese tallow puts on a bright gold on a dull November day.

But I digress from the quail.

I have fond memories of eating delicious bacon-wrapped grilled quail at various restaurants (Royer's Round Top Cafe, the Liberty Bar in San Antonio), so that's what I hoped to reproduce (turns out my memory's faulty--Mom & Dad say Royer's famous quail is bacon-less. Oh well.)

However. There were very few recipes on the internet for quail that were wrapped in bacon, cooked on a grill, and served whole. Consequently, I had to cobble mine together from several other recipes. For the benefit of Webland, I'm including my recipe below.

Marinating quail. So cute!

Grilled, Bacon-Wrapped Quail

8 semi-boneless quail (backbone & ribcages removed)
1 container of Italian salad dressing
1 long log or 2 small logs of soft goat cheese
1 bunch of fresh sage (with at least 16 leaves)
16 pieces of bacon (I used applewood & cinnamon smoked bacon)

Special supplies: Charcoal, wood chips, grill

(1) Cut the tips of the wings off of the quail (from the tip to the first joint).

(2) Marinate the birds in Italian dressing 6+ hours or overnight.

(3) Start the charcoal in a charcoal starter. We (inadvertently) bought charcoal made of actual pieces of mesquite—not little briquettes. Chi-chi!

(4) Put the wood chips in some water to soak.

(5) Cut the goat cheese into disks approximately ½” thick. Put 1 sage leaf on either side of each goat cheese disk. Stuff 1 disk with sage into the body cavity of each quail.

(6) Fold the wings across the quails’ breasts: To fix the wings in place, cut a slit in the last section of one of the quail’s wings. The cut should run parallel to the wingbones and should be a little longer than ¼”. Thread the end of the opposite wing through the slit. This should make the quail look like little bitty decapitated vampires, with their arms crossed on their chests.

(7) Use the same technique to cross the birds’ legs: Cut a small slit in the meat of one leg parallel to the leg bone and thread the other leg through the slit.

(8) Wrap the birds in 2 pieces of bacon each: wrap one piece around the bird laterally. The ends of the bacon should over lap on the bird’s breast. Wrap the second piece dorsally, going between the folded legs and wings. The end pieces of this piece of bacon should meet under the folded wings, which will help hold them in place.

(9) Now the bacon should make the birds look like Sumo wrestlers. Decapitated vampire Sumo wrestlers.

(10) The internet, at this point, recommends searing the bacon in a hot pan. This will pull off a little of the extraneous fat, which will help to reduce flare-ups in the grill (a little). Also, the theory is that it will seal the edges of the bacon so they won’t curl away from each other in the cooking. Well, I guess maybe I didn’t do this part long enough, because the bacon went ahead and curled right in the pan, and I had to stab my little vampires through the heart with a wooden stake to hold the bacon in place. If it were to do this again, I’d probably use a spatula to apply pressure to the birds as they cook and sear them for a little longer than the 30 seconds or so that I attempted this go round. Be sure to sear both front and back of the birds.

(11) Spread the charcoal, sprinkle some wood chips on top of the hot coals, and place your birds on the grill. Close the lid of the grill to trap the smoke.

(12) Grill for 15 minutes.

(13) Flip the birds and cook for 15 more minutes or till the juices run clear/the legs wobble in their sockets.

Decapitated vampire Sumo wrestlers. With sage.

Some of the recipes I used were:
They were deliciously moist, tender, and smoky, if I do say so myself. We also had Brussels Sprouts with browned butter and pecans, creamed spinach, rolls, and butterscotch pots du creme for dessert. The Brussels sprouts were really almost tasty--a little sweet, a little buttery, a little nutty, barely cabbagey at all. They were a combination of two Eating Well recipes (BS with Hazelnut Brown Butter and BS with Pecans) plus about a tablespoon of bacon drippings left over from the quail.

And now that we have done Thanksgiving, it's time to start in on the Christmas season. Tomorrow: hang the lights outside and a buy a tree.

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