Quail Stuffed with Wild Rice, Water Chestnuts, and Apple with Apple Cider Vinegar Emulsion

About a month ago, Kate and I took a fantastic open hearth cooking class at Historic Deerfield in Massachusetts, and, since then, we’ve been working on getting set up to do open hearth cooking at home. You’ll be hearing more about this in the future as our experiments progress. When we got home, I went to the cookbook shelf to pull down The Magic of Fire by William Rubel, a beautiful oversized book about open fire cooking, and noticed that one of the other books in the oversized section was Charlie Trotter’s Meat and Game. This is a roundabout way of saying that we missed Charlie Trotter’s spot in our regular reverse alphabetical cook-through, since it was on a different shelf, so we’re turning back the alphabet to T for this blog post.

I’ve had this book, number 18 in our project, since shortly after it was published in 2001, and have always considered it more of an aspirational coffee table cookbook than one I was likely to cook out of. This is a big book full of vivid pictures of animals, both domestic and wild, and their habitats, as well as mouthwatering pictures of perfectly plated versions of each recipe. While all of the recipes, divided into chapters such as “Light Poultry & Other Fowl,” “Robust Meat & Game,” and “Varietal Meat,” are enticing, I always felt that they were more suited to a restaurant kitchen. My opinion has changed, however, now that we’ve actually cooked out of the book.

We were lucky enough to have some of Steve Sando’s outstanding Rancho Gordo California Wild Rice in the pantry and a package of four frozen quail from D’Artagnan in the freezer, so Kate and I decided to make Quail Stuffed with Wild Rice, Water Chestnuts, and Apple with Apple Cider Vinegar Emulsion. While many of the recipes call for rather exotic ingredients by mid-coast Maine standards, this one was pretty straightforward, except for the quail, which we already had, though we did have to settle for tinned water chestnuts rather than the fresh ones called for.

I cooked the wild rice the evening before, so it was ready when the time came to make the stuffing of wild rice, diced water chestnuts, and diced Gala apple seasoned with salt & pepper. Kate stuffed and trussed the semi-boned quail and seared them in grape seed oil while I chopped parsley and tarragon and added them to melted butter to baste the little birdies with. After an initial anointing with the herby butter, the quail went into the preheated oven.

While the quail roasted, we made the apple cider vinegar emulsion by sweating minced shallots in more butter until translucent, then adding a cup of apple cider and simmering until it was reduced to half a cup. Then, in sequence, we added more chopped Gala apple, apple cider vinegar, a couple sprigs of thyme, and some of our homemade chicken stock and simmered it all to tart appley deliciousness.

After about 20 minutes, and a couple more bastings, the quail came out of the oven golden brown and ready to rest. With several steps left before plating, teamwork was definitely required. In rapid succession: we sautéed another diced apple, this time a Fuji, in butter until it was caramelized; warmed the half of the wild rice, apple, water chestnut stuffing that didn’t go into the birds in the residual butter from the apple; strained the apple cider vinegar emulsion through a fine mesh sieve, whisked in yet more butter, and frothed it with our trusty immersion blender.

Finally, on to plating. We spooned half of the warmed wild rice mixture into two shallow bowls, topped each mound with a quail, arranged the sautéed apple around the perimeter the mounds, and finished off each bowl with a moat of the frothy emulsion. A final grind of freshly ground pepper and we were ready to dig in. The quail was moist and flavorful with a slightly livery gaminess that was perfectly complemented by the sweet sautéed apple, rich tart apple cider vinegar emulsion, chewy wild rice, and differently crunchy apple and water chestnut in the stuffing. This is definitely not a weeknight dinner, unless you’re retired like we are, but it was really worth the effort.

We knew this dinner would want just the right wine, so we had gone the day before to see our wine guru, Joel Hatch, at Now You’re Cooking in Bath. The 2014 Antoine Jobard Bourgogne Aligoté that he recommended was right on the money: slightly mineral with green apple notes that complemented the food perfectly.

Since we had only eaten two of the quail the first night, we took them with us in our ice chest a few days later when we went back to Historic Deerfield for their Patriot’s Day festivities. A split quail was the perfect topper for salads of spicy greens that we enjoyed as an al fresco lunch seated on a bench in front of the Deerfield Inn. And it gained us a lot of attention from passersby, too, who were uniformly disappointed when we told them we had brought our lunch and not gotten it from the restaurant.

This isn’t a book that we’ll cook out of every day, but, as successful as this quail dish was, we will be coming back to it for special occasions. Since we’re on the verge of getting ramps and fiddleheads, it will be hard to resist trying Charlie’s recipe for Squab Breast with Fiddlehead Ferns, Ramps, and Star Anise Vinaigrette. We’ll keep you posted.

Up next: The Hands-On Home (for real this time).