Balsam Fir

Smoked Quail

Quail, kombu, Eastern Hemlock needles, maple wood chips, Tub o’ Duck Fat, sake and sugar

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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Finally, I cooked the quail in a Tub o’ Duck Fat until they looked golden and crisp.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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Maple Syrup Caramelized White Asparagus

White asparagus, Maple, fir sugar

White Asparagus Final Dish

Since all of the recipes we’ve done up to this point have been either fish or chicken, we decided to try a few dishes Melissa could also enjoy. The first was this recipe for maple syrup caramelized white asparagus.

The recipe required some more Balsam Fir in the form of “fir sugar”–luckily we planned for this in advance and made the fir sugar after last week’s forage. This involved grinding together some fir needles and cane sugar which resulted in a bright green mixture with a pleasant aroma of fir needles.

We prepared the white asparagus by bending the stalks to allow for them to snap at the point where the woody asparagus starts. We had previously read about this practice but had always cut the ends flush at an arbitrary point for nicer presentation. Having snapped them this time around, the cooked asparagus had a uniform texture with no fibrous sections–it really is a great technique!


The cooking process involved blanching the asparagus in a pot of salted boiling water. I’ve been cooking for a while now, and I still have no idea how much salt to add to the water when blanching or boiling food. I’ve read that the water should have the same degree of saltiness as sea water, but that seems a little arbitrary since water from the Black Sea is ridiculously salty and differs greatly from the salt content of the sea in Jamaica (this is based solely on my tasting experiences of oceans). This also seems to be of little help since different foods absorb different quantities of salt. In any case, I added some salt to some water.

After a quick blanch, the asparagus were sautéed in butter and maple syrup until they were glossy with the maple caramel.

Cooking Asparagus

We then seasoned with the asparagus with salt, pepper and fir sugar.

Cropped Asparagus

The final dish was great, and we really loved it! The maple syrup and butter made it taste more like a dessert than a side dish of vegetables (this would be a great dish to trick your kids into eating asparagus). As we had leftover asparagus, I made this dish again the next day as an after-work snack–it’s quick and delicious!