One aspect of my life that has changed is are my eating habits. Blogging has definitely made me a better cook, I demand more from myself and of others when it comes to food (that means you restaurants). The food doesn’t have to be fancy nor does it need so many elements that fifteen underlying recipes are needed to complete the main one! Blogging pushes one into a “what’s next to try” or “what else can I cook up” mentality but one can’t eat experiments everyday either.
There are days when I just feel like eating my family’s comfort foods (like roast chicken, stews and one-pan roasted dishes). The best pastas are the ones where the sauce is ready by the time the pasta is ready. It’s summer and the grill offers satisfaction with relative ease in preparation or pizza is always a family and friends pleaser. Then there are the Sunday meals…sometimes you’re into it (cooking) and sometimes you want a no-frills “let me enjoy my Sunday” kind of dish. This next dish falls somewhere in the middle…some involvement in preparation but you won’t need the mad skills of a CIA-trained chef to pull this one off. We’re roasting quail and this is how ya do it!
Quail is a familiar bird in Greek cuisine and I came in contact with them (ate them) through uncles who were hunters. They are a lean bird and they would benefit from some fat and flavour being added. The best way do to that is to marinade them. This marinade contains olive oil, herbs and spices, wine and garlic and even a splash of orange juice for some complexity of flavour. The marinade is quickly whisked in a bowl and the quail must be marinating in the fridge from the night before. Check.
The next day, a few more tasks have to be completed but again, nothing too gourmet but hey…it’s Sunday dinner and some degree of “special” should be exerted non? I could have easily whipped up a bowl of mashed potatoes but I saw some womderful eggplants at the market, it seemed like a pity that my gas grill wasn’t being using so I decided an smoked eggplant puree would pair wonderfull with the quail. Smoked eggplant puree is another way to say Hunkar Begendi, a dish borrowed from the Turks. It’s made by charring eggplants on a charcoal or gas grill then you scoop out the flesh and pound it to a mash with your mortar & pestle. Move over to the stove-top and get a roux going with butter and flour then add the milk, the eggplant puree, cheeses and adjust seasoning. Done!
The key to a well-made Hunkar Begendi is getting that smoky flavour into the eggplants and that can be only done by char them on a gas or charcoal grill. If you only have an oven, you could cheat by using a smoked cheese to achieve the smoky element. Don’t skip this step! Once your eggplant puree is to your satisfaction, cover and set aside and you simply can warm up the dish when the quail is about done.
At this point, you should take your quail out of the fridge and allow it to return to room temperaure. You’re going to have to pre-heat your oven and have an oven-safe skillet handy as we’re going to sear the birds then finish in the oven. While the oven is pre-heating, you have to make another batch of marinade but this time this is going go in the oven with the birds – this is going to become your sauce. The marinade with the quail should not be used (food safety) – make the second batch.
Quickly tie your quails up with butcher’s twine, pat-dry then season with coarese sea salt and fresh ground pepper. Sear the quail (all sides) in your skillet then finish in the oven. I had some cherry tomatoes and I threw them in the oven (separate vessel) and they made for a delicious garmish. Forty minutes later, your quail will be roasted to perfection and all that’s needed is to make the sauce with thr pan juices and you’re set!
The juices simply need to be reduced, perhaps thickened with some cold butter and finished with a fruit or berry preserve. I had some tart black cherry preserve on hand (Vissino) and as quail qualifies as game, the cherries were as natural as topping a cake!
Roast Quail With Smoked Eggplant Puree (Ορτυκια στο Φουρνο με Πουρε Μελιτζανασ)
8 quail, necks & excess fat trimmed
coarse sea salt & fresh ground pepper
olive oil and unsalted butter for searing
extra cold butter to finish sauce
approx. 1/4 cup of sour cherry preserve (Vissino) marmalade
for the marinade
2 cups dry white wine
1/4 cup Metaxa brandy
10 allspice berries
4 bay leaves
1/2 cup olive oil
6 cloves of garlic, smashed
2 sprigs of rosemary
10 sprigs of fresh thyme
5 sprigs of fresh oregano
2 tsp. of mixed whole peppercorns
1/2 cup orange juice
2 tsp. salt
Smoked Eggplant Purée
1/2 cup grated Kefalotyri or Romano cheese
2 heaping Tbsp. of cream cheese
2 Tbsp. of butter
2 Tbsp. of all-purpose flour
2 cups of milk
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup of chopped fresh chives or scallion greens
fresh ground pepper & salt to taste
- Mix all the marinade ingredients in a bowl then pour off half and reserve in a container and place in a fridge (to be placed in the oven with the quail). Rinse and pat-dry your quail and place in a zip-lock bag along with the remaining marinade. Seal the bag and place in a bowl and refrigerate overnight.
- The next day, you may choose to make your smoky eggplant puree prior to roasting your quail or during the forty minutes you have to spare as it’s roasting in the oven. Your choice. Pierce the eggplant around a few times all around and char/blacken over high heat in your gas or charcoal grill. Turn the eggplant every 10-15 minutes until all sides of the skin are charred.
- When the eggplant has cooled enough to handle, cut the eggplant open with a knife and spoon out the meat of the eggplant. Discard the skin. Pound the eggplant using a mortar and pestle until it’s creamy yet chunky. Reserve.
- In a medium saucepan, add your butter over medium heat and when it’s melted add the flour and stir with a wooden spoon until the colour turns to a light brown. Now slowly add your milk while stirring until the mixture starts to thicken (like the consistency of cream).
- Add your roasted eggplant puree, the cream cheese and grated cheese and stir to incorporate. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper and stir in your chopped chives. Reserve and keep warm.
- Take your quail and the reserved marinade out of the fridge and bring to room temperature. Pre-heat your oven to 375F, middle rack. Take the quail out of the bag, discard the marinade and drain and pat-dry your quail. Truss your quail with butcher’s twine and season with coarse salt and fresh ground pepper.
- Place a large heavy-bottomed (oven-safe) skillet on your stove-top over medium heat and add a couple of turns of olive oil plus some unssalted butter. As soon as the oil and butter stop bubbling, add your quail and sear on all sides (do not crowd your quail, sear in batches, add more oil and butter as needed).
- Remember that reserved second batch of marinade? Add the marinade into the skillet and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Now add the reserved quail into the skillet and cover with aluminum foil. Place in your pre-heated oven for 35-40 minutes. Remove the quail from the oven and take out of the skillet and cover/reserve. At this point, you may wish to warm-up your eggplant puree.
- Remove the herbs and spices from the sauce and reduce over medium heat to half. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper and you may thicken the sauce (off the heat) with cubes of cold butter. Add your sour cherry preserve and swirl in with a spoon. Adjust seasoning and set aside.
- Snip the butcher’s twine off the quail and divide and plate the eggplant puree on each dish. Place two quails on top of the eggplant and pour over the sauce and garnish with fresh herbs and roasted cherry tomatoes. Pair this fine Sunday meal with an Alpha Estate 2007 blend.
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