The Nasty Bits

Recipes and stories for everything but the oink.

The Nasty Bits: Quail

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[Photographs: Robyn Lee, unless otherwise noted]

Last Sunday I was served a really wonderful roast chicken dinner at a dear friend's house, and I secretly grew annoyed. I wanted the whole chicken to myself. And I thought, well, if I can't have a whole chicken right now, I will go buy half a dozen quails and have each one by myself, so that by the end I will have consumed six whole little birds, without having to share with anyone.

There. Isn't that an awful confession? But it's true.

Actually I shouldn't be complaining at all. In fact it was a thrilling moment when my friend pulled the chicken, which she had purchased at the Greenmarket, out of the oven. To my delight, tucked next to some roasted potatoes and carrots were two chicken feet, looking very plump and tasty. I planned on claiming and eating those feet.

And I did. No one else wanted the feet! Quite conveniently, the breast meat people didn't even want to play rock-paper-scissors for the dark meat. As usual, I waited a respectable period of time, then mined the chicken for those two little pockets of blood congealed near the rib cage. So things could really not have been any better, unless you count the minor tragedy of another friend claiming the chicken neck before me. But even if I'd gotten the chicken neck, I would have have felt the same urge to sit down at the table with a whole bird to myself.

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That's when I decided to buy six little quails all for myself. They taste sort of like tiny ducks, since their breast meat is dark rather than white. I cooked the six quails in different ways, on different days, and dined alone. It was so therapeutic.

On the first day I roasted a single quail. On the second day, I simmered another two. On the third day, I battered and deep-fried two more, and on the last day, I stewed the sixth quail in soup.

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[Photograph: Chichi Wang]

Of those preparations, the simmered version was my favorite, and I'll tell you why. Roasted quail is neither as tender as chicken nor as fatty as duck. Deep-fried quail is pretty good, like deep-fried anything, but it just made me wish I was eating fried chicken. Quail is too small and bony for soup.

But simmering the quail quickly on the stove is the best way to savor its quail-ness. I browned the quails in butter, then tossed in some chopped capers and mustard. They took about 15 minutes to simmer in stock, the sauce reducing into a glaze of butter and capers with a mustard-y kick.

I felt so reinvigorated from my six whole little birds that when I went to another friend's house the next week, and was served another whole chicken, I was OK with sharing. Except this time I went straight for the neck.

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