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Before we begin, if you’re squeamish about your meat or have a moral aversion to what butchers do you may want to avoid this entry.
Sunday, I finally had my quail. We ordered them on Thursday and being super excited I planned and dreamed the rest of the week for what I was going to stuff them with and prepare as a side to these little birds. Saturday night I was ready. I instructed the husband as to what I needed at the market when he went to pick them up the next day. I went for my morning Sunday run and when I came home, I walked in the door and said, “Les cailles?”
“Yup,” the husband said.
Quail or caille are very little birds of mostly bones and a meat that is somewhere between white and dark. Each one was under 200 grams. They were delivered all tied up with their little limbs packed close to their bodies. I took them out of their wrappings and cut away the string and then I saw something shocking.
I called to the husband, “My cailles still have heads on them.” I should have expected it. We hadn’t specified to the butcher to prepare the birds for me before we picked them up. But it was unexpected and very alarming. Not only did they have their heads, but this also meant that my quail also still had all their little organs inside, fully attached.
Have you ever prepared a turkey for Thanksgiving or Christmas? Did it have it’s head? Never in my life have I had to clean out a turkey, quail, or any bird, let alone decapitate one. Of course, you can buy a turkey that hasn’t been – shall we say – emptied, but usually the organs are detached from the body and wrapped up separated for use or for discarding. I stared down at the little heads, thankfully, their eyes didn’t seem to be staring back.
I grabbed my very big meat knife. Took a deep breath. Then another deep breath. And then – Off with their heads!
And out with their organs. It was disturbing. But I feel like I’ve hit a milestone in my amateur chef-ness. I have decapitated an already dead animal.
With that out of the way, I had to prepare my stuffing. I kept it simple and traditional for the first time around. Mushrooms in cream with garlic onions and some herbs.
Roasted Quail with Creamy Mushroom Stuffing
- 2 quail of about 200 grams each
- 350 grams wild mushrooms (cèpe, girolles, morels, chanterelles etc)
- 1 yellow onion
- 3 cloves garlic
- 2 celery ribs
- 75 ml heavy cream (or about 4 tablespoons)
- olive oil
- chicken broth or stock
Preheat your oven to 180°C.
Clean your quail out of any organs. Set aside.
I really recommend yellow onion here as the yellow onion has a buttery scent and attack when it first hits your tongue – perfect for this type of stuffing. Mince your onion, garlic, celery. In a heated frying pan with a little bit of oil, cook over medium heat until the onions and garlic are fragrant, a minute or two. Add your mushrooms. I used frozen mushrooms which took about 10 minutes to cook and mix with the rest of the veggies. Add your heavy cream and herbs and mix until everything is warmed and fragrant. Salt and pepper to taste.
Keep warm but set aside while you prepare the quail.
Prepare a medium size casserole dish for roasting your quail the way you would roast a turkey. I simply put a little chicken broth at the bottom. No more than ¼ cup. Rub a little olive oil, salt and pepper into the quail.
Stuff the birds full of the stuffing and wrap up so that the stuffing can’t fall out while baking. I tied the legs of my quail together, but didn’t go any further than that because I didn’t have a needle to sew them shut. Careful when you stuff your quail because they are slippery from the oil and easy to squeeze – stuffing falls out everywhere if you squeeze too hard. This isn’t your typical stuffing either. There’s no bread, obviously, and though the cream will thicken as it sits, it doesn’t stick like traditional stuffing. So take care when you fill your birds.
With a basting brush, rub stock over the birds and then put in the oven. Bake for 20-30 minutes until bird is fully cooked and the skin is golden brown. Baste every 5-8 minutes or so for optimal moisture. Remember that these are birds just like chicken or turkey, but they do tend to have a bit of extra tenderness to them.
Serve immediately with extra stuffing. I added a handful of chopped walnuts to the stuffing.
As a side we had sweet potato “hash browns” which I’m only calling hash-browns because I cooked them in a pan with onion, garlic, and parsely instead of roasting them. They added a colorful and comforting texture to the plate as well as having a sweet taste that off-set the savory quail.
So how were they, the birds? Perfect. Quail, when roasted right have a moist, tender flesh with a buttery flavor. It’s not like the dark meat of the turkey – softer, lighter, a bit more wild, which went perfect with the wild mushrooms and cream.
Don’t like quail? No problem.
Strawberries have arrived! We had a very warm winter and with it came an early spring and the first strawberries are here. We had them for dessert sprinkled with lemon juice and tiny sprinkling of sugar and basil. Light, fresh and sweet. And no heads in sight.