My husband and I decided to stay home on New Year’s Eve this year. Our children, little social butterflies that they are, abandoned us as quickly as they could dial their cell phones. This meant New Year’s Eve alone. Just the two of us.
*insert wild laughter*
Our weekly budget for the farmer’s market is $40. At the end of our Saturday morning trip, we had a basket full of greens, green onions, fennel, sweet potatoes, onions, peppers, broccoli, oranges, oranges, more oranges, goat cheese, farmer’s cheese, and strawberries. I checked my pockets and counted out our last $6… exactly enough for one quail from the first, and last, booth at the market- Graham Farms.
Rather than cooking the one quail and just having enough for a bite for everyone to try, my husband and I selfishly decided to eat the quail… ourselves. We cooked dinner together in the kitchen, chatting happily, taking photos and suggesting additions, co-creating a new recipe based on a dish my husband had at a restaurant in South Carolina. It was a wonderful evening.
Quail with Shiitake-Sage Gravy for Two
1 fresh Graham Farms quail, cut in half down the backbone and breastbone
1/4 tsp Cajun seasoning
2 oz of smoked jowl bacon, minced (can substitute 2 slices of smoked bacon)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 lb fresh shiitake mushrooms, sliced
1-2 tbl butter
1 tbl peanut oil
2 tbl all-purpose flour
1 c rich chicken stock, preferably homemade
4 leaves of fresh sage, minced (or a hefty pinch of dried sage)
Heat a cast iron skillet to medium-low. Season the quail with the Cajun seasoning and set aside. Add the smoked jowl to the pan and cook slowly until it begins releasing some fat. Add the garlic and cook until the garlic just begins to color, about 1 minute. If the jowl or bacon has released enough fat to coat the bottom of the skillet, then add the mushrooms. If not, add 1 tablespoon of butter, then add the mushrooms. Saute the pork, mushrooms and garlic on medium-low heat just until the garlic and mushrooms are nicely browned. Remove the pork, mushrooms and garlic with a slotted spoon to a bowl and set aside.
Add 1 tablespoon of butter to the pan and enough peanut oil to make about two tablespoons. Add the quail breast-side down and make sure the little legs are folded so the thick side of the thigh is against the heat. Cover and let cook for 10 minutes. The turn the quail halves over and cover again and let cook for 5 full minutes. Lift the lid, turn the quail halves over on the breast meat and check the color. If the flesh showing through the ribs is pink, cover the pan and cook for an additional 2-3 minutes. As soon as no pink is showing around the ribs and the breast meat is firm to the touch, remove to a plate and cover with the pan’s lid to keep warm.
Grab a whisk. Sprinkle the flour over the fat and browned yummy bits in the saute pan and start whisking. Do not stop. Scrape up the browned bits with the flour. As soon as the flour/fat mixture starts to turn golden and smells nutty, start pouring in the stock. Pour the stock in slowly and whisk like there’s no tomorrow. The goal is to pour the stock in so slowly that the mixture never stops simmering. Once all the stock has been added let the mixture come back to a simmer before you stop whisking. Stir back in the pork, garlic, and mushrooms, then add the sage. Taste for salt and pepper and add if necessary. Turn the stove down to the lowest setting and leave it alone for a few minutes to meld the flavors, then stir right before serving.
Pour the cold stock and milk into a pot with a tight-fitting lid. Whisk in the salt and grits. Then put the pot on the stove on medium and stir until the grits come to a full boil. This is the best method for making grits with no lumps, ever. Cover, lower the heat to medium-low and let simmer while you prepare the quail.