Which brings me to today. I found myself at my kitchen bench, contemplating very small birds. Birds that could have been cupped in my hand quite easily, and I have small hands. The reason for the birds was dinner, and more specifically, a fast dinner after a busy day from a Gourmet Traveller recipe. I am trying to cook as much as possible from Gourmet Traveller this month because of a new monthly challenge with Melinda from Melbourne Larder. We have called this project "We Made It" and we are planning to try and cook as much as possible from a different food magazine each month. Ideally, we want our food magazine purchases to be put to better use than just contemplating hypothetical dinner parties. Not that I can see the hypothetical dinner parties being cancelled anytime soon.
On scouring this month's Gourmet Traveller for something fast to cook for dinner, I landed on marinated quail in the Gourmet Fast section. I knew immediately that darling husband and kids would love this. While many people would quail (!) at the thought of eating a quail, my people are not those people. My Asian husband and children are used to eating small birds from pigeon onwards, after years of meals at Chinese restaurants. I consider it something to do with the famine mentality that is visible at times behind even the fanciest Chinese cuisine. Yes, I'm looking at you, 1000 year old eggs.
But as I sat there contemplating the small birds, I was wondering whether there was something inherently cruel about eating something so little. I can only put this down to the "pick on someone your own size" school of thought, as most days of the week, I have no problem eating all manner of animals. Which then led me to wondering whether empirically there was something different in quality between the life of a quail, or a cow or a sheep or even a very unlovable shark. Logically, there isn't. Which then led me to contemplating our position at the top of the food chain and the fact that nature can be cruel at almost every turn. Those at the top of the food chain tend to win, but the only ones who worry about it are humans. And as if the cruelty and health arguments for and against vegetarianism aren't enough to wrestle with, now there is an environmental dimension to be considered as well. Promise to let you know when I reach some conclusion.....
Back to the quail. If you are someone who does not quail at quail (sorry, I loved that line so much I had to use it twice), this recipe is a winner. I measured all of my marinade ingredients into the same measuring cup, so by the time I had finished measuring and chopping the sugar had nearly dissolved. The marinade then needed only a minute or two on the stove to be ready for use. Incidentally, I couldn't find 4 jumbo quail, so I used 6 regular quail and cooked them for slightly less time (about 2 mins). After ten minutes, the oil was hot, the salad was made and the quail was ready for the pan. Cooking took another ten minutes by the time I had worked in batches. The result was really good. Daughter came back for seconds and husband came back for thirds. If you are not keen on deep frying, I also tried cooking one of the quail under the griller, and it was good too.
PS Apologies for the photo - light was failing and we were all too hungry for much styling.
Fried Quail With Cucumber and Lettuce Wedges Australian Gourmet Traveller December 2009Serves 4
4 jumbo quail, butterflied and halved lengthwise (have your butcher do this if the thought of it bothers you)
200 ml light soy sauce
100 ml chicken stock
40g caster sugar
2 pieces of orange rind removed with a peeler
2 cm piece of ginger thinly sliced
1 star anise crushed coarsely
Vegetable oil for deep frying
1/4 iceberg lettuce cut into thin wedges
1/2 cucumber cut into 4cm batons
1 tsp Chinese five spice mixed with chilli flakes (ooops forgot this bit)
Lime wedges and coriander sprigs to serve
Place quail in a single layer in a non-reactive bowl (I used plastic; glass or ceramic are fine too). Combine soy sauce, sugar, stock, orange rind, star anise and ginger, in a small saucepan, and stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Cool, pour half over the quail and return the rest to the stove. Cook until it is a nice, syrupy sauce, then strain and set aside.
Meanwhile heat oil to 180C in a high sided frypan or a deep fryer. Combine five spice, chilli and 2 tsp sea salt in a small dish, and set aside. Drain quail, pat dry and deep fry until golden and crisp. Drizzle the sauce over the quail, and serve with lettuce, cucumber, lime wedges, coriander and five spice salt.