Roast Quail With Smoked Eggplant Puree

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)

(serves 4)

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

2 eggplant
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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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).
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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).
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.

 

 

© 2011,
Peter Minakis

. All rights reserved.

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15 Comments for “Roast Quail With Smoked Eggplant Puree”

says:

Please come over and cook the quail who are eating my garden veggies! (Of course you will have to catch them first.)

says:

I can still taste these yummy little creatures. And the smoked egglant puree…..pure heaven. I’ll take the eggplant puree over potatoes anyday.

says:

You hit the nail on the head with everything you say about blogging. It keeps you on your toes, forcing you to be creative. Hell, it’s forcing me to learn how to properly photograph a meal and plate it nicely (because I still hate most of my food photos!) There are times when I just don’t want to put out the effort (I’m in a dry spell right now) and I have to ask myself, “Do I need to share this rather ordinary recipe?” (I’m regretting not sharing my barbecue-flavor turkey burgers right now).

Quails are on my list of foods I need to try cooking. I’ve done whole duck and pheasant and it’s time to branch out. Thanks for this recipe. Definitely provides some inspiration!

says:

Fantastic! That refined dish makes me hungry. Quails are delicious and so is eggplanr puree. as a matter of fact, I made a similar version of this accompaniment this week and will blog about it soon…

Cheers,

Rosa

says:

The eggplant looks amazing – I think I would serve it with duck or something though (I get bored eating around tiny wee quail bones!)

says:

Hi Peter – Ooh, such a creative dish. Quail + eggplant, terrific combo. Love the cherry topping!
We’re really into eggplants around here. The smoked eggplant puree sounds like heaven.
LL

says:

This dish is worthy of a five-star restaurant! I have never had béchamel mixed with eggplant but I can imagine how creamy it must taste, perfect with the quails.
In Lebanon, people love to hunt and kill tiny birds called osfoor (maybe ortolan in French?); they eat the birds whole, bones and all. I am horrified by this so-called culinary delicacy and prefer a nice plump chicken or even a quail. Call it misplaced sentimentalism.

says:

I so agree with the sentiment expressed in the first paragraph…and the dish you prepared here is really exceptional. Restaurant quality, for sure!

I’ve never worked with quail but I watch all the cooking shows and I know there’s a knack to perfect execution which it looks like you accomplished.

says:

Wow Peter you make it seem so simple to prepare this fabulous (and ultra gourmet) dish. Quails are something I would def order at a resto because I know I would never make it myself. .. unless I show up to your pad…I love how you paired the quail with smokey hunkar – so much better than mashed potatoes. And yeah, I hear you on the blogging making you a better cook – it’s funny to see old posts from way back when to what they have become now.

says:

Why, oh why do you not open a Greek Taverna in Canada, you are so incredibly talented peter. I mean, this is posh nosh!!

says:

Thanks so much for sharing this recipe. Have wanted to find out how to make smoked aubergine puree since eating it at the wonderful Turkish restaurant, Kazan, in London. Now I know! Thanks…