Quail, kombu, Eastern Hemlock needles, maple wood chips, Tub o’ Duck Fat, sake and sugar
We’ve been taking things a little slower nowadays as we’ve completed most of the recipes that involve in-season produce and meat. We are going to start focusing on some of the stranger recipes that require more hard-to-find ingredients. This isn’t really one of those recipes as we knew from previous experience where to find the fir, although this time we opted for the Eastern Hemlock needles as they are easier to source and, in our opinion, equally delicious!
We started this recipe by creating a broth with kombu seaweed, water, sugar, and sake. This was fairly simple–we simmered water, sugar and kombu for approximately 15 minutes to infuse the flavours.
After the steeping time had elapsed, we removed the kombu. The broth almost tasted very similar to almond extract mixed with simple syrup but had a strong mushroom smell (kombu is high in MSG)–it was unlike anything either of us had ever tasted, that’s for sure! At this point, we added the sake and returned the broth to a low simmer.
Having already preheated the oven, we briefly bathed the quail in the broth, baked them for a few minutes, and then repeated this procedure a few times. Our best guess is that this broth is meant more to act like a glaze than anything else, and the repeated procedure created a pretty thick sticky glaze surrounding the bird inside and out.
Next, we used the Eastern Hemlock needles and maple wood smoking chips to smoke the quail. If you remember back to our Mock Smoked Salmon post, we previously took a different (and slightly more dangerous) approach to smoking that may or may not have jeopardized our damage deposit. I recently acquired a Smoking Gun, so this smoking this time around was much less dangerous and way more controlled!
We cut up the Eastern Hemlock needles and combined them with maple wood chips. Then, with the naked, sticky quail in hand, we loaded the Smoking Gun with the mixture and inserted the nozzle into an upside-down bowl.
Needless to say, this was so much more convenient and efficient than our previous smoking attempt! It literally took under 30 seconds to fill the bowl with smoke. I think last time we spent about 45 minutes heating up our make-shift stove smoker.
Finally, I cooked the quail in a Tub o’ Duck Fat until they looked golden and crisp.
Last time we went on our forage for Balsam Fir, we made something the book refers to as Fir Sugar. It only required blending Balsam Fir with sugar, so we used the excess Balsam Fir needles to make this and have kept this in our fridge up until now. It actually turned out to be an excellent accompaniment to this dish both in terms of flavour and aesthetics!
The quail was delicate and smoky! It was sticky and sweet, with the now familiar taste of duck fat, but with a background taste of smoke that added a subtle little something that made the flavour really interesting. We ended up pairing this with a sweet potato puree and a sprinkle of balsam fir sugar. The mix of potato and fir-sugar was simply amazing! Fir-sugar will now be a standard on sweet potato, forever.
This recipe was definitely one of the easier ones and I would consider making this for a dinner party! The only thing I would change is that next time I would smoke the quail a second time (after cooking) to really bring the smoky taste to the forefront of the dish. Otherwise, I thoroughly enjoyed the familiarity of the flavours–it reminded me of a sweet Chinese chicken dish, but with a sophistication that forces you to take your time to savor every bite.