Barking Kitten

Fiction, musings on literature, food writing, and the occasional Friday cat blog. For lovers of serious literature, cooking, and eating.


Close to forty. Not cool. Politically left. Atheist. Happily married. No kids.

Sunday, January 21, 2007


These little birds incited the previous post: I was pre-salting them when I took note of the new Morton's box.

But on to happier topics. Quail is a favorite meal in our household, but doesn't seem to have taken hold in the States as home food. It's difficult to find, even here. I've never seen it fresh, only frozen. The quail I buy comes from Quebec, nine birds to a package. This package is primarily in French and says little about how the birds lived or died. One suspects the worst. I can only hope it's farmed by a burly guy named Marc-Andre who thinks Quebec should secede from Canada and that NHL expansion teams in the southern United States are a blot on mankind.

My favorite recipes come from two British Isles cookery (that's what they call 'em there) folks: Fergus Henderson and Tamasin Day-Lewis. Let us begin with the latter. Yes, she is one of those Day-Lewises, daughter of Cecil, sister of Daniel, and has inherited the family good looks and fame. As if this weren't enough reason to hate her, she is a talented cook. I bought Good Tempered Food about a year ago, on remainder. It's published by Miramax and is the penultimate in food porn. Tamasin comes across as somebody who is working hard to ingratiate herself in the humble home cook's kitchen but cannot resist remarks like: "My first trip to Sicily this year was to the heights of Erice..." (28) or her words on making a Bloody Mary: " is my pre-Sunday lunch, post eight-mile-run-and-bath ritual..."(34) On potted shrimp: "Short of catching them myself-- which I do in the west of Ireland--" (42)

This is all enough to make one wish to toss the book into a sous vide bag, but the recipes are all very good. I can safely say this is only cookbook in my collection that inspires such divided feelings. But of course she includes quail, which she cooks "long leg," meaning the entrails are still inside. Maybe this is okay if you have an incredibly fresh, organic source for your birds. If not, like me, get your cleaned birds from our Quebecois friends. You will not be disappointed.

Tamasin Day Lewis' recipe for quail calls for olive oil, salt, pepper, balsamic vinegar, and chicken broth. You broil your quail for five minutes on one side in the oil and seasonings, add the balsamic, turn them, broil another five minutes, add the broth, turn them on their backs, and give 'em five more minutes. Allow them to rest. Eat.

This recipe is wonderful, easy, and always comes out fine. It's on page 36 of a book that may annoy the hell out of you, but you'll cook from it.

On to Fergus Henderson, whose London restaurant, St. John, is beloved among offal eaters. His cookbook, The Whole Beast, took awhile to reach the United States, and was long a cult find amongst foodies. Now it's easy to get, and even if you aren't into cooking or cookbooks, you should grab this. Henderson is witty, refreshing, and calming. He may inspire the most timid to venture kitchenwards. I have prepared his duck legs with carrots countless times. His recipes for pig's trotters, crispy pig's ear salad, and lamb's tongues will change the way you think about variety meats. Besides, it's impossible not to love somebody who writes things like "There is almost nothing as reassuring as having some stock up your sleeve." (3)

On the presence of capers in his famed Roast Bone Marrow and Parsley Salad:

"Do you recall eating Raisin Bran for breakfast? The raisin-to-bran-flake ratio was always a huge anxiety, to a point, sometimes, that one was tempted to add extra raisins, which inevitably resulted in too many raisins, and one lost that pleasure of discovering the occasional sweet chewiness in contrast to the branny crunch. When administering such things as capers, it is very good to remember Raisin Bran." (35)

His words on quail are no less informative or amusing. Quail, he writes, "falls into a kind of bird purgatory; it is not a game bird...but is now a throroughly farmed bird...and it is denied joining the chicken's gang, as it seen to be too fiddly to eat. Then finally, to kick the quail while it's down, people say it has no flavor." (106)

Fergus' recipe is even simpler than Tamasin's: season the birds inside and out with sea salt, pan brown them, then toss them into a 425 degree oven for twenty minutes with some olive oil. He notes quail are easygoing and will allow themselved to be overcooked without becoming livery. He suggests serving the birds on a bed of watercress, which I second with any kind of salad greens, which pick up the bird's juices and are wonderful.

A final note about Tamasin and Fergus: whilst Tamasin is glibly running her marathons, gentle, kind Fergus Henderson is debilitated by Parkinson's Disease and can no longer cook. (One more reason to be all in favor of stem cell research and hope that if there is a hell, Rush Limbaugh soon finds himself in it.)

Caveat Emptor: quail is not elegant eating. It is sort of food best consumed with close friends and/or loved ones, as fingers and teeth are required to really get the meat off all those wee bones. Once you've scarfed down every bit, save the carcasses: they make wonderful stock, more deeply flavored than chicken. For a truly transcendant stock, one you will be very happy to have up your sleeve, add duck bones.

A final word from Fergus:

"Do not be afraid of cooking, as your ingredients will know and misbehave. Enjoy your cooking and the food will behave; moreover it will pass your pleasure on to those who eat it." (xx)

Tamasin Day-Lewis: Good Tempered Food: Recipes to love, leave, and linger over. Hyperion/Miramax Books, U.K. 2004.

Fergus Henderson: The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating. Ecco/Harper Collins, New York. 2004.


Blogger Justin said...

Hey, I liked your post n started reading it. but then could not finish it honestly speaking as I had to go. Will come to check the posts again.

keep blogging
take care

January 22, 2007 2:00 AM  
Blogger Barking Kitten said...

Thank you for the line....hope to hear from you again!

January 24, 2007 7:31 PM  

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