“DANS LE FOUR, MADAME- DANS LE FOUR!” the French Chef shouted at me during my class at the Paris Cordon Bleu School. We were making ‘Quail stuffed with shitake mushrooms with veal sweetbreads and glazed pearl onions.’ I was late in putting my quail in the oven to cook and the supervising chef was telling me to hurry up and put it in the oven (le four) to cook.
But who could blame me for being late when we had so many steps to complete for this dish! First, we had to de-bone a quail, which almost required the skill of a micro-surgeon. Have you seen how tiny a quail is?
A lot of poultry in France is sold with the head of the bird still attached to the body, so the customer can readily see what kind of bird you are buying. So my quail arrived at my work station with its head still in tact. I stroked the feathers of the head and they felt so soft, compared to the rest of the body. I hesitated, almost not wanting to wake up this ‘sleeping bird.’
After removing the head, we cut out a small hole in the backside of the quail and pulled out the heart, liver and all of the other insides and then removed the ‘wishbone’ (if you can find it). Then taking a paring knife, we delicately reached inside the quail and scraped the meat away from the bones, without tearing the skin. This was not an easy feat, but my mission was accomplished- at the end, my quail looked like a tiny ‘quail suit,’ empty of its bones (except the leg bones, which were left in).
De-boned Quail – ready to be stuffed
We then trussed the bird using a 10 inch long trussing needle- it seemed rather ridiculous using such a large needle to truss such a small bird, but we’re all here at Le Cordon Bleu to learn new techniques, right?
The final dish included the quail stuffed with diced shitake mushrooms and chicken livers and also veal sweetbreads cooked in a delicious braising liquid. This braising liquid included a mirepoix of diced carrots, celery and onions, red wine, veal stock and was also flavoured with the quail bones. Sweetbreads (ris de veau) are made from an animal’s pancreas or thymus glands. I’m usually not fond of organ meat, but this tasted delicious when served with the sauce made from the reduced braising liquid.
Sweetbreads – from animal’s pancreas or thymus glands
And what was the overall verdict for this dish? I usually don’t care for quail too much, since there is not very much meat on this bird. However, the shitake mushroom and chicken liver stuffing ‘plumped up’ the quail nicely and added a delicious texture to the dish. Yes, I’ll be trying this dish again one day, but next time I’ll be sure to put the quail earlier dans le four!
You can also serve the quail cut in half to reveal the stuffing
P.S. Please also refer to my post Julia Child’s Boned Duck Baked in Pastry.