Last year we spent six fantastic months in the Keesing Studio in the Cite Internationale des Arts, in Paris, courtesy of a writer's residency from the Literature Board. It was amazing being right at the epicentre of the world's greatest food city(amongst other things of course!) and we lost no time indulging in our favourites and discovering lots of new things. But though we went to a few restaurants occasionally, most of the time we ate at home, cooking up all kinds of delicious things from the extraordinary and exciting raw materials to be found in the local markets, butchers, bakers, cheesemakers and grocers.
It was fun too to overcome the difficulties inherent in a tiny kitchen with not many facilities, when we're used to lots of space and everything you need at hand. The Keesing studio kitchen does not have an oven or a grill, so home-cooked roasts and grills were out(not to worry, we bought those ready cooked from amazing market stalls that sold succulent roast chicken and the best grilled pork ribs I've ever eaten in my life!) In fact, to cook on we only had a two-burner hotplate that you plugged into the wall--if you wanted to boil the kettle you had to disconnect the hotplate! And practically no space to chop or prepare anything. But we made do and not only that--the challenge was a lot of fun, making us not only masters at juggling saucepans and cooking times, but also pushing us to invent--or reinvent!-- all kinds of delicious dishes which had a lot of success not only with their creators but with guests!
Here's a recipe for one of our top favourites, which I've dubbed Quail a la Keesing in honour not only of the studio, but also in memory of the late Nancy Keesing, thewonderfully generous writer whose extraordinary bequest made the Paris residencies possible for Australian writers.
By the way you can see an actual picture of Quail a la Keesing in the photo at the top of this blog, which commemorates one of our meals in the Keesing!
Quail is very often oven-roasted but our necessity made us discover that pot-roasting it gives a better flavour and stops it drying out. Also, recipes often indicate you need 2 quail per person, because of their small size--but because the quail is stuffed with forcemeat, you only need one quail per person (note: in Paris we bought the forcemeat or 'farce' directly from our fantastic local butcher, but here we've made our own.)As quail often come in packs of four, this makes the recipe much more economical! It is also very simple to prepare, and is really delicious, mouthwateringly succulent, and with a gorgeous rich sauce that is most distinctive.
Ingredients(for four people--simply add or subtract as necessary)
4 quail(1 for each person)
about 350 g minced meat for stuffing--pork is great, or if you don't eat pork, veal or chicken is also good(for American readers: 350 g is about 12 and a half ounces)
2 egg yolks
Herbs--pinch thyme or tarragon or parsley(you can also have a mixture--either thyme and parsley or tarragon and parsley is best)
Olive oil to brown the birds--you can also use a mixture of a little oil and a little melted butter
Splash white wine
1 glass creme de cassis(blackcurrant liqueur): If you can't get this, you can replace it with a glass of white wine to which you've added blackcurrant juice or syrup, similar to say Ribena.
Chicken stock to add as needed.
Method: first make the stuffing: chop one of the onions finely and mix it with the chopped herbs, salt pepper and egg yolks, into the minced meat. Divide the mince into 4 equal portions and stuff the cavity of each bird with it. Heat some oil in a casserole dish or cocotte, added the other onion, more coarsely chopped, and cook for a couple of minutes. Now put in the stuffed birds, brown gently, then add the splash of white wine, and three-quarters of the glass of blackcurrant mixture. Let cook for about 10 minutes, adding stock if the mixture looks like it's going to reduce away. Then add rest of stock so the liquid comes to about a quarter of the way up the birds. Simmer gently on top of stove for about 45 mins to an hour--about 15 mins before end of cooking time, add rest of blackcurrant mixture. (If you feel it needs added richness, you can add a little more blackcurrant mixture--but take care not to add too much or it will be too sweet) You should end up with perfectly-cooked birds, and a deep dark thick sauce that can be spooned over the birds when you serve them, or served separately so each person can help themselves(which I prefer). Sprinkle the birds with chopped herbs, and serve with steamed or boiled small potatoes, salads and/or greens of your choice. Goes well with white or rose or a light red wine.