When I was in the 5th grade, each student in my science class was given a small quail’s egg and asked to look after it. The eggs were housed in a large incubator. We were to ensure that our assigned egg would develop properly and were asked to study the hatching process. When the teeny tiny baby quails were finally hatched, we were given a few weeks to play with the super cute baby birds (and study them) before the little suckers were brought to “the wild” and set free. Of course, as I think back, I really don’t know if what our teachers told us was the truth. Where in the world in or even around New York City would you take 50 or 60 baby quail to set them free? Were they brought to a pretty little farm in upstate New York? Or let loose in a lovely patch of forest? Or (heaven forbid but potentially more probable) sold to some very happy butcher, who turned our little friends into delectable goodies waiting to be picked up by some greedy gourmand?
Of course, when I was 9 years old, I could never have fathomed eating those cute little critters. Now though, older, cynical, and much more omnivorous, I’m a big fan of eating quail. I really like the slight gameyness of quail as well as the tenderness of the meat when cooked just right.
I’ve found that marinating boneless quail (which you can pick up in Singapore at both Huber’s Butchery and Culina) and then grilling them is a wonderful and easy way to enjoy these delicious little birdies. My favourite current version is inspired by a recipe I ran across in Chef Teague Ezard’s book Lotus: Asian Flavours. Teague’s dish is a charsiu marinated quail with Mandarin pancakes, lime and cucumber salad and roasted rice. While I followed Teague’s instructions for the salad, I did tweak it substantially. I more than halved the amount of vermicelli he uses, cut down on the spice, and added a bit of sweetness.
For the quail, I used a similar marinade to the one I’ve used before for pork charsiu, but with a little bit of heat and a tiny bit of miso. S and I have also been making our own Mandarin pancakes for a while now. It’s relatively easy. Just a bit fussy and time-consuming but not too challenging.
To put the dish together, place a bit of the salad on the middle of a Mandarin pancake. Then top that with a few pieces of the grilled quail. We don’t bother with the roasted rice. Roll the pancake up and start chomping away.
This is a really great dish to serve friends at your next dinner party for a number of reasons. Firstly, you can prepare a lot of the components early. You have to marinate your quail (ideally) a day in advance. You can make your salad ahead of time. When you do, I recommend not mixing the dressing into it until maybe an hour before your friends are meant to arrive. Mix it together too early and it could all be a bit too soggy. And you will also need to make your pancakes earlier. So during dinner itself, you just need to grill the quail, chop it up and either assemble the rolls for your friends or let them have fun assembling them themselves. The dish also has a wow factor I actually didn’t expect. The people we’ve served it to have all been really enthusiastic about the use of quail (I guess it’s not a dish you expect to be served at someone’s house) and about the rather unique but really fabulous combination of Asian flavours.
You can also skip out on the pancakes entirely and serve this as a grilled quail salad. Which friends trying to avoid carbs — and I seem to be collecting too many of these — will appreciate.
Charsiu marinated quail
10 boneless quail
6 scallions, sliced into 2 inch lengths and smashed
8 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
3 tablespoons regular soy sauce
2 tablespoons Chinese rice wine
2 tablespoons sugar
6 tablespoons hoisin sauce
2 tablespoons rich chicken stock
1 tablespoon of Chinese chilli bean paste
1 tablespoon red miso
3 teaspoons sesame oil
Mix all the marinade ingredients together well. Pat dry the quail and place them in a large baking dish or wide bowl. Pour the marinade over the quail and toss the quail thoroughly with the sauce. Cover and let sit in the fridge for up to 2 days and for at least 12 hours.
When you want to cook the quail, lightly oil a large grill pan. Heat up over mid to high heat. You want the pan nice and hot — you should see a touch of smoke coming from it. Place the quail skin side down on the hot pan. Cook for 3-4 minutes, or until the skin has a nice, slightly charred texture and the quail can be easily pulled off the pan (I’ll assume you’ll be using a cast iron and therefore not nonstick grill pan). Turn the quail over and grill for another 2 minutes or so. You want the quail cooked through but not overcooked, ideally a nice medium-rare equivalent.
When done, slice up the quail into strips. You want to be able to easily roll up each pancake.
Lime and cucumber salad
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons light soy sauce
1 tablespoon honey
4 small limes
2 long cucumbers, seeded and sliced into thin batons
10 small shallots, finely sliced
8 spring onions, finely sliced
1 long red chilli, seeded and finely sliced lengthways
2 cups mint leaves
2 cups coriander (cilantro) leaves
35g dried rice vermicelli
Combine the olive oil, lemon juice, soy sauce and honey. Mix well. Set aside.
Cut the peel from the limes and segment them by cutting as close to the membrane as possible on either side of each natural segment. Work your way around the limes until you have cut all the segments out.
Cover the noodles with boiling water and leave until tender, around 1 minute. Drain and refresh under cold water.
Combine all the other salad ingredients in a big mixing bowl. Add in the vermicelli and pour in about two-thirds of the dressing. Mix well and taste. If you need more dressing, please add more and mix again.
The recipe I like to use can be found in Grace Young’s The Breath of a Wok. I will also post the recipe in the next few days, so please be patient.