13 April 2015

Cooking quail — « Cailles aux petits pois »

A few days ago I cooked something I had never cooked before: quail, or cailles. I'd often seen them on the markets or advertised in the supermarket flyers, but for some reason had never bought any. This time, SuperU had a package of four farm-raised, supposedly ready-to-cook quails for about ten euros, and I was game.


Imagine my surprise when I opened the package and found the little birds with their heads still on. To my mind, that's not really what should be called prêt-à-cuire. Oh well. Off with them... an old French tradition. My guillotine being in storage these days, I just used a big kitchen knife.


Each quail weighed in at about 250 grams, or a little over half a pound. Quail, by the way, are migratory birds that greatly resemble partridges but are much smaller. American quails are slightly larger than the Old World varieyy, but they are said to be excellent eating. As I mentioned, these quail were farm-raised — no buckshot in them. Besides having their heads still attached, they also needed further plucking to remove a lot of stray pinfeathers.


The recipe I had picked out of the Larousse Gastronomique was for quail served with garden peas. After pondering the question, I decided the best way to finish preparing the quails for roasting was to butterfly them. It's easy to cut out each bird's backbone with a good pair of kitchen shears, and then spread the birds out so that they'll lie fairly flat on a baking rack.


It's good to season the volaille at this point, with herbs, spices (paprika, hot or smoked, or both) and salt and pepper. Then turn them over to roast in a hot oven for 20 minutes or so. They're very small, so they don't take long to cook.


It was a lot of work to get them ready for the oven, and I told Walt I didn't know if I would be eager to cook quail again any time soon. While I kept working on the quail, I also cooked some diced carrots and little pearl onions (oignons grelots or "sleigh-bell onions" in French) to serve with frozen peas, along with a few smoked pork lardoons.


To finish cooking the quails and give good flavor to the peas and carrots, I arranged the roasted birds on top of a batch of vegetables, covered the pan, and let everything steam on top of the stove for 10 minutes before serving time.


There of course isn't a lot to eat on a quail. Eating the tiny bit of meat on the wings reminded me of eating frogs' legs. The drumsticks and thighs were a little more generous and succulent. However, the breast meat was a real treat. You couldn't call it white meat, exactly. In French, the breast filet is called a suprême, and these really were supreme, actually.

23 comments:

  1. Eeeek!....
    they look like little roast people!



    Tasty little people, mind!!

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    1. That same thought occurred to me when I looked at the photos again. By the way, these photos come out of my "kitchen" camera, which is a Panasonic Lumix DMC-Z1. So I haven't given up on Panasonic completely, by any means.

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  2. I presume the heads are left on to prove they are what they say they are and not chickens. They are a lot of work to prepare and full of tiny bones. I've done them once or twice decades ago. I'm glad the breast meat redeemed them for you.

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    1. That's what I assumed about the heads. Otherwise the birds could have been coquelets, which we call Cornish game hens in America. I'll have to cook coquelets next.

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  3. You did an excellent job preparing and cooking these birds. I just watched Chef Herbert Keller on PBS. He is originally from Alsace. He had a guest chef named Chris Cosentino cooking with him. He is known for cooking gourmet offal. (is that an oxymoron?) He cooked quail. He seared in grape seed oil, then poured the oil off and basted in butter.

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    1. I thought the quails were good but they were a lot of trouble. I had assumed they really would be "ready to cook" as advertised, but they needed a lot of prep. Offal is a weird word, isn't it? But then we don't have a good word in American English like the French abats — kidneys, liver, sweetbreads, tongue, etc.

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    2. Ken, the English phase for offal is "Stuff I'd never eat".

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    3. Kidneys! Lamb or veal. Liver -- foie de veau. Yes. We cooked a rabbit for Easter. The kidneys and liver of rabbit are good too.

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  4. Those heads surprised me when I scrolled down today! Bet they surprised your kitchen camera too lol! If those Sunday hunters knew that you like cooking game, they'd probably drop a few rabbits by your stoop on their way out...Maybe you'll roast a wild boar one day?

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    1. We've had dinners of quail, rabbit, and goat (kid or chevreau) over the pst couple of weeks. Only in France...

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  5. I prepared quails some 20 yrs and decided it was too much work ( to cook and to eat -with those small bones and all)
    Now, I do order them when we go to the Lebanese restaurant as part of the main meal .
    BTW: just to inform you Hilary is running again :-)

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    1. I've heard. All the news today in France.

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  6. Walt, I caught that too. I figured it was an unconscious pun, because you are the punster of the family, not Ken.

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  7. The first time I had quail was at Mustards Grill in St. Helena (maybe you've been??), the second and last time was in a grill near Fontainebleu and it was horrible....tasted like liver. I've seen them lately at a local specialty shop and your blog has tempted me to try them. Your dish looks great!

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    1. Loved Mustard's -- went many times, but never had quail that I can remember. Larousse Gastronomique says that American quail has a delicate taste.

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  8. I have bought them in Poland. They are tasty.

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  9. I love quail Ken. I usually butterfly them too. Easier to cook and to eat. I have a good Italian recipe for them by Marcella Hazan where they have prosciutto and sage tucked inside, then they're browned in butter before being cooked for quite a long time in white wine. Winner. Yours looked delicious. Sue
    Looks like we might be back your way in 2016!

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    1. Sue, we heard about your 2016 plan. Sounds good. Wish you were here now to enjoy the fantastic weather we are having. That Marcella Hazan recipe sounds delicious. I have her classic Italian cookbook; I'll have to see if it's in that one.

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  10. Guess I'm too much of an American city girl - I cringed at the "heads". How comical that they are sitting up with their legs together beside the peas and carrots! I started following you shortly before your vacation to NC this winter. I've enjoyed reading your blog very much. Thank you for graciously sharing your life adventures.

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