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Quail with pistachio sauce
What I will say about quail is that it is a good barbecue meat. It responds to being cooked on the grill better than a lot of poultry. A lot of chefs like to painstakingly bone and truss and stuff their quail, which is fine and they can do that. But I think a lot of the flavour comes from the moistness around that little skeleton.
The only other technique that I think can really elevate the quail is frying, which is often how it is treated in Chinese cooking. The crispy bones are delicious.
I like to cook butterflied quails, which have been slit down the back and opened out flat. In this state they’re very easy to marinate and take on flavour very well. Put on the grill, the birds cook quickly and because the flesh is still on the bone it retains moisture and develops a great flavour.
The flavours that I’ve used for this recipe are vaguely Moorish. I’ve been obsessed with the flavour combination of quail and pistachios since eating a quail flatbread served with yoghurt and pistachio nuts at a restaurant in London named Moro. That would have been almost 20 years ago.
The dish was kind of a reverse play on stuffed quail. Half a quail was rolled between flatbread dough, with a little onion, and then pan-fried. The cooked bread was served with some yoghurt and chopped pistachios and mint mixed with orange flower water and oil. It really was so delicious. The bread takes on all the flavour and juice of the bird and still has the sweetness of the dough. It ticks all the boxes, really. Just one of those dishes you eat that stays with you forever.
In this recipe, I’ve blended the pistachio with a bunch of herbs and then taken a handful of pistachios and spiced and fried them. For the fried pistachios, you probably want to make more than you need. It’s near impossible not to eat some while you work.
Quail with pistachio sauce
For the sauce
– ½ cup shelled pistachio nuts
– ½ cup picked parsley
– 20 picked basil leaves
– 1 tbsp chives
– ¼ cup grapeseed oil
– pinch of salt
For the spiced nuts
– 4 tbsp shelled pistachio nuts
– 1 tsp grapeseed oil
– 1 tsp smoked paprika
– 1 tsp Turkish chilli
– ½ tsp black pepper
– ½ tsp ground cumin
– zest from ½ an orange
– 4 butterflied quail
– pinch of salt
– 1 tbsp butter
– 1 tbsp grapeseed oil
– lemon juice
To make the sauce, bring a small saucepan of water to the boil. Blanch the pistachios for three minutes and then drain. When cool enough to handle, rub off the loose outer skin from the nuts using kitchen paper towel.
Bring another saucepan of salted water to the boil. Blanch the herbs for 30 seconds. Strain and refresh in a bowl of iced water. Once chilled, remove the herbs and squeeze out excess water.
Place the blanched herbs with the pistachios, oil and salt in a blender. Blend on a high speed to form a smooth sauce. If it gets too thick you can let it out with a little water.
For the spiced roasted pistachios, preheat your oven to 160ºC.
Toss the nuts in the oil before adding the spices and zest to evenly coat. Roast the nuts on a tray lined with baking paper until the nuts are toasted and the spices have become fragrant (six to eight minutes).
To cook the quail, season the birds with a pinch of salt on both sides.
Warm a frying pan with the butter and grapeseed oil to a moderate temperature. Add the quail, skin-side down, and pan-fry slowly until the skin becomes golden and crisp. Turn the quail and cook for a few minutes more, until just cooked through.
Remove the quail and squeeze a few drops of lemon over each bird and leave to rest on a plate for five minutes before serving.
To serve, prepare four plates with a spoonful of the pistachio sauce on each, place the quail on the sauce and finish with the spice-roasted nuts.
2016 Valentine Wines grenache, Heathcote ($28) – Liam O’Brien, head sommelier, Cutler & Co.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Oct 28, 2017 as "A brighter shade of quail".
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