A platter of roasted quail served with polenta “makes a savory autumn Italian-style feast,” said David Tanis in his new cookbook, A Platter of Figs (Artisan). For this recipe, served over polenta, he suggests an average of two quail per serving—though three might be necessary for those with a hearty appetite. Tanis, who works half a year as head chef of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Calif., recommends “semiboneless” quail that will encourage guests to “pick up the legs with their fingers.” Serve with grilled radicchio.
Recipe of the week
Roasted Quail With Creamy Polenta
16 semiboneless quail, about ¼ pound each
Salt and pepper
2 tbsp chopped thyme leaves
2 tbsp chopped sage leaves
6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
16 thin slices pancetta or bacon
Creamy Polenta (see recipe)
Season each quail inside and out with salt and pepper; drizzle with a few drops of olive oil. In small bowl, mix together thyme, sage, garlic. Put small spoonful of mixture inside each bird. Wrap each bird with slice of pancetta. Put in baking dish and refrigerate birds for up to several hours or overnight. Bring to room temperature before cooking. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Put quail breast side down in shallow roasting pan (two pans side by side is easier) and slide onto oven’s top rack. When birds begin to sizzle, after eight minutes or so, turn them breast side up. Continue roasting for 10 to 12 minutes more, until quail are nicely browned and crisp and juices run clear when thigh is probed with tip of knife. Remove birds from oven and let them rest about 10 minutes, loosely covered. Pour polenta onto large platter. Lay quail on polenta and spoon pan juices over birds. Surround with grilled radicchio. Serves 8 to 10.
The best-tasting polenta depends on good, fresh cornmeal and a certain amount of tending, though the constant stirring everyone dreads isn’t really necessary. Most Americans don’t cook polenta long enough, so it has a disagreeable raw cornmeal taste. Use 4 parts water to 1 part polenta. Once made, the polenta can sit for another hour.
Bring 12 cups water to boil in large heavy-bottomed pot over high flame. Add 2 tsp salt and 3 cups stone-ground polenta, and stir well with sturdy whisk. When water returns to boil and polenta begins to thicken, after a minute or two, turn flame to low. Continue to stir while polenta gets its bearings. After a few minutes, it will be bubbling very gently, with the occasional ploop. Stir polenta every 10 minutes or so. If it seems to be getting too thick, splash a little milk on top and stir it in—do this occasionally, or as necessary.
After 45 minutes or so, polenta should be nearly cooked and ready for tasting. Spoon out small amount on plate and let it cool slightly—hot polenta straight from the pot is likely to burn the roof of your mouth. You’re looking for a lush, corn flavor and a texture that’s smooth, not grainy. Now add salt and pepper to taste, and another splash of milk, and stir well. Cook for 15 minutes longer, then taste again. Stir in a stick of softened butter. Turn off heat and let polenta rest, covered, for 15 minutes before serving. Covered, it will stay warm and soft for up to an hour.