I like to try new things and not everything I have in my freezer is something I shot or caught. I buy a good amount of pork fat from a place called Specialty Meats and Gourmet
in Hudson, WI. Along with pork fat they have a huge selection of wild and exotic meats and every time I am there I always try to get something I have never had before. It is a good thing that they are a 45 minute drive away because if they were much closer I would be tempted to make more trips than necessary.
The last time I was over there I had picked up some semi-boneless quail and some veal sweetbreads. I kept thinking I was going to save them for a special occasion but that occasion never came. I was going through the freezer last week and found the quail and sweetbreads and decided it was time to go ahead and cooking them. I have never cooked either so I needed to do a little reading first to find a few recipes I might want to try.
The first recipe I saw for sweetbreads, which are the thymus from calves and lambs, was for a buffalo sweetbreads with a celery blue cheese salad. The recipe came from the Le Pigeon cookbook
and looked so amazing that I didn't even look for another recipe to try. One common misconception is that sweetbreads are brains and they are not. There is a process to cooking sweetbreads, first they needed to soak in cold water and then needed to be poached in salt water with other seasoning. After that they were drained and chilled for 6 hours and then you get to peel the membrane off and separate them into little lobes. At that point they are ready to cook I just tossed them with some seasoned flour and fried them for a few minutes then tossed them with the buffalo sauce. They were very good and had a very firm and pleasant texture. I don't know if they have a very unique flavor they really just tasted like the liquid I poached them in and the buffalo sauce. They were very good but probably not something I will do again.
The quail on the other hand was frickin ridiculous, these tiny little birds were tender and delicious and did have their own very unique flavor. We don't have a natural quail population here in Minnesota only non-wild ones at some of the game farms. I have never hunted quail and had only eaten quail a handful of times. Most of the recipes I found were for some form of breaded and fried quail and I have had that before so I really wanted to try something different.
Several weeks ago my wife handed me a recipe for chicken thighs in an orange marmalade sauce and I cooked that and it was incredible so I thought I might be able to adapt that recipe to these little quail. I didn't have an orange marmalade but I did have a cranberry-orange marmalade so I used it instead. I dredged the quail in a mixture of flour and seasoned salt and then pan fried them in a little bacon fat, about 2-3 minutes on each side. Then removed the quail and made the sauce. The end result was amazing, the quail were tender and juicy with the right balance of sweet and salty. It really made me wish we had a huntable population of quail in Minnesota.
Quail with a Cranberry-orange Marmalade Sauce
4 semi-boneless quail
flour for dredging
3-4 tablespoons bacon fat or other oil to fry in
Season the flour with the salt and dredge the quail, then fry for 2-3 minutes on each side over medium high heat until golden brown. Remove the quail from the pan and set aside.
For the sauce
2 cloves off garlic minced
1/3 cup cranberry orange marmalade
1/2 cup chicken stock
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
Pour off some of the fat so you have about 2 tablespoons in the pan, saute the garlic then deglaze the pan with the stock. Add the marmalade, vinegar and soy sauce, stir to combine and reduce. Return the quail to the pan and continue to reduce the sauce spooning the sauce over the quail. When the sauce has thickened up serve the quail with some rice and spoon the remaining sauce over the rice and quail.