column By: Gordon Hamersley | November, 19
The variations are endless, of course, and I invite any and all combinations that strike your culinary fancy. And as always: Use the birds you have on hand. Consider the fruits, vegetables and especially the lettuces that are robust, often bitter and crunchy, this time of year to be the perfect complement for game birds. Whether you’re making lunch or dinner, a hearty salad is hard to beat.
Partially boned and flattened (spatchcoked) quail cook fast in a hot skillet — about 8-10 minutes start to finish. Choose birds that have their skin intact, if possible, and start the knife work by cutting out the backbone and pressing them down lightly to flatten the birds. Then using a small paring knife or your fingers, remove as many of the smaller bones as you can. It’s your choice to keep the thighbones and drumsticks or not. Finicky work is not my thing, so I leave them. Lightly salt and pepper the quail, and leave them on the kitchen counter to reach about room temperature before cooking. For the best results, pat the quail dry before adding them to the pan. While the quail rest for a few minutes, make the dressing and salad.
Even though most fruits and vegetables are available year-round now, it’s best to use produce that mimics the season. So remember it’s winter: no tomatoes, green beans, peaches or raspberries for this salad. Instead choose what’s best right now. Crisp, ripe pears and sweet oranges paired with a mix of hearty lettuces like escarole, Belgian endive, radicchio and chicory. It’s surprising how satisfying this main course salad can be. Chardonnay vinegar is light and slightly acidic, and the dressing is balanced by the addition of a few teaspoons of orange juice. Salty and rich blue cheese — be it the true, crumbly Roquefort or the smoother, creamier Gorgonzola — adds contrast and fat (yup, we need a little in the winter). A few toasted walnuts round out the dish.
Arrange the salads to show off the pear, orange, walnuts and cheese, and then place the birds on top. To add a boost of flavor and to finish the dish, spoon the warm accumulated pan juices over the birds just before serving.
Winter casts a long shadow, and there will be plenty of time for thick soups, slow-cooked roasts, cream-based sauces and meat pies. Make life easy and healthy, and try a hearty winter salad next time you’re cooking your favorite upland bird.
2 tablespoons canola oil
4 quail, partially boned or spatchcocked so the birds lay flat
3 tablespoons Chardonnay vinegar
2 teaspoons orange juice
2 sage leaves, chopped
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 shallot, finely chopped
salt to taste
black pepper to taste
¼ cup olive oil
1 Bosc pear, thinly sliced
1 navel orange, skinned and sliced
1 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped
4 cups bitter greens like Belgian endive, chicory or radicchio, washed and dried well and cut into bite-sized pieces.
4 ounces blue cheese, crumbled
Heat the canola oil in a large, heavy gauge sauté pan until very hot.
Pat the quail dry with a paper towel, and sprinkle with kosher salt and black pepper. Lay the birds in the pan skin side down, and cook over medium-high heat for about 6 minutes or until the skin is well browned. Turn the birds over and continue to cook for an additional 2-3 minutes. Turn off the heat, and let the quail finish cooking. Let them rest in the pan.
While the birds are resting, make the dressing and salad. In a small bowl, combine the vinegar, orange juice, sage, mustard and shallot. Add salt and pepper, and whisk in the olive oil in a slow, steady stream to create an emulsion. Set aside.
In a large salad bowl, combine the dressing with the greens. Mix thoroughly, and then add the pear, orange, walnuts and cheese.
Divide the salad among four plates, and arrange the rested quail on top. Spoon any pan juices from the quail over the top.