Wailing over quail

Roast quail with grapes in liquor and glazed salsify

I’m in Poitou Charentes in the west of France. Home of Échiré butter. Chef said it’s THE butter. And France is a country that knows its butter, right, so it has to be worth trying. Just don’t mess with it. No compound butters. Eat as is. It’s also home of the first possible exam dish in Intermediate Cuisine—Caille aux Raisins et Pineau des Charentes or quail with grapes and Pineau des Charentes. It’s a busy dish. Apparently, we also have to serve 2 plates in the exam. Great, now I can dirty 2 plates.

Pineau des Charentes is a fortified wine typically blended from unfermented grape juice or lightly fermented grape must and Cognac. Typically around 17%, it’s both sweet and acidic.

Quail time. Any feathers and scales were scorched with a careful wave of the blow torch followed by some delicate scraping and plucking. Head lopped off. Legs and wings chopped and French trimmed. No scraping and swearing this time. Just push the meat down the bone. Easy. Incision made along the neck, skin pulled back. Neck removed with scissors. Excess fat scraped from the skin flap. Throat and oesophagus pulled out. Wishbone removed. Index finger in, lungs dislodged. So far so good. Next, a deft cut across the ol’ poop hole. Grimace. Then in with two fingers and innards scooped out. No airs and graces here. Smelly. For such a little bird it’s a pretty bloody operation. Protocol is to wipe the inside with a towel. No rinsing with water. Lastly trussed the little critters ready for pan roasting. Offal-wise, the French use the liver, gizzard and heart. For this dish we discarded everything on the inside.

Whole quails, heads on, guts in

Butchered quail ready for trussing

The globe artichokes were cooked à blanc, just like before. When they’d cooled, the choke was removed and they were cut escaloper then prepared for reheating to serve.

Chef said salsify is a forgotten vegetable. Pity. It’s yum. Ocado doesn’t sell it. Fail.

The salsify was peeled to the same diameter for even cooking, then browned in butter. It has a tendency to oxidise so if you’re not cooking it soon put it in some water with lemon juice. Otherwise just cover it with damp kitchen towel. Once showing some colour, brown chicken stock was added and, with the lid on, reduced to glaze. Salsify must be served soft not crunchy. But take care, it’s delicate when cooked.

A small basket was made by deep-frying the salsify shavings. What goes in the basket? Grapes. Peeled grapes. Oh come on! Really? That’s just sadistic. More like shaving grapes. I’m not sure blanching helped loosen the skin from the flesh.

The quails were coloured in a pan with hot oil, basted with foaming butter, then roasted in the oven for about 8 minutes, basting every 2 minutes. Aim for 68C. While this was going on guess what I was doing? Yip. Shaving those bloody grapes.

While the birds were having a rest, most of the butter was decanted from the pan. It was deglazed with finely diced shallot. Then with Pineau des Charentes. In went the verjus for an acid kick, followed by brown chicken stock. This was reduced to coating consistency before the grapes were added for a quick bath.

Salsify glazed in brown chicken stock

Turned artichokes cooked in a blanc and cut escaloper

Peeled grapes in sauce

I liked cooking this dish. Plenty going on and some techniques to it. And I put up a good looking plate, I thought. My little experiment using water with a dash of vinegar to clean the plate seemed to work. But, actually, I screwed up most elements on the plate today in one way or another. My birds were slightly under. My salsify needed more glazing. My sauce was too light in colour and needed more acidity. My basket needed more shavings. And, for some bizarre reason I only served 3 grapes. 5 were required. Having shaved all those grapes I left them at my workstation. What’s gotten into me? Stupido.

My quail had a good shape and my artichoke was nicely cooked. Well woopedy-fuckin-doo. At least I didn’t over-pepper anything.