The whole story of this dish began when I planned to cook quails for Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve dinner. But the thing is that my dear ogre and I both got sick during holiday, and I decided not to waste energy or food to cook sophisticated meals that we were anyway not in the mood to eat. In the meantime, I got the idea of this recipe. I had on mind to cook savoury meals including grapes for some time then, and quails seemed to me a perfect occasion to experiment such a dish. In one of my food magazines, I even found a recipe associating both ingredients, but it included mushrooms too, which I found quite weird. I choose to add chestnuts instead, thinking their more neutral and sweeter taste would match grapes better (and I was right, at least in my opinion !). I completed the whole with a celeriac purée that I’d already had the occasion to try otherwise and that I liked a lot ; its taste and consistency are light and somehow refreshing, and anyway, chestnuts and celeriac combine wonderfully (try cooking a cream soup with both of them, you won’t regret it !). My ogre even complimented me, though he doesn’t like to eat bony foods… By the way, I find this dish quite in tune with Valentine’s day, don’t you think ? So, here’s an easy to do, tasty yet refined meal for every special occasion you’d like to celebrate with your other half and/or other people !
Inspired from Saveurs, « Best Of » #1 and special edition #9.
Ingredients (I made the recipe with 3 quails, but I give you the recipe for 4 as I think 2 quails by serving is better) :
For the quails
- 4 quail, ready for stuffing (feathers and giblets removed)
- 90 ml + 4 tbsp of dry white wine, such as riesling (or a sherry as in the original recipe, if you’d like something sweeter)
- 200 ml poultry gravy (I used dried poultry stock diluted in hot water – but do not use broth, it should already be quite concentrated)
- about 20 green grapes
- about 15 chestnuts, peeled and cooked (either canned, bottled, frozen or fresh if available – see below)
- 60g unsalted butter
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- salt, pepper
For the celeriac purée
- 400g celeriac
- 70g butter
- salt, pepper
Rinse the quails, pat dry and remove any remaining feather. Sprinkle the quails’ cavities with salt and pepper, then pour 1 tbsp of dry sherry into each quail cavity. Truss them as you would do with a bigger poultry. I followed the instructions in this French video (using a large sewing needle instead of the specific one), but you may use the method described in this one. The important things are to proceed carefully and to make sure the cavities are well sealed, to avoid having the wine poured out and enclose it.
Preheat the oven at 375°F / 180°C.
Over a medium-high heat, melt 20g butter in a pan with the oil in an oven-proof pot or in a pan. Sear the quails on each side until evenly browned (more than mines) ; it should last about 5 minutes.
Add the remaining 90 ml (a heaping 1/3 cup) wine, and boil it down of one third on high heat.
Pour in the poultry gravy, bring to a boil, then take off the heat. If you do not own an ovenproof pot, put the quails with the whole sauce in a pie plate or so which you can cover and that fits them. Cover and bake for 30min.
Meanwhile, prepare the garnish. If the chestnuts are bottled or canned, rinsed them and drain well. Make sure to choose entire chestnuts which hold shape well, to avoid having your sauce spoiled with chestnuts falling apart. If they are frozen, simply thaw and boil them until tender, according to the instructions on the packaging. If you’re using fresh ones, you’d have to peel them your own. To do it easily, remove first the tough, brown skin with a knife, then roast a few at a time in a 180°C/375°F oven for about 15 minutes ; put the cooked chestnuts in a towel and rub until the skin comes off. If it does not come off easily, roast for 5 minutes more before rubbing again.
Take the seeds out of the grapes without damaging them, using a paper clip as shown in the pictures below. You need to be delicate and patient, since there are at least 2 seeds in each grape…but it’s worth it !
In a pan, brown briefly the grapes and chestnuts on high heat with 20g butter, trying to avoid the chestnuts to stick to the pan and the grapes to get wilted (1-2 minutes). Sprinkle salt and pepper and rest off the heat.
Once the quails are cooked, take them out of the pot /plate, reserving the cooking juices, and keeping the quails warm. Boil down the sauce a little if it seems to runny, then add the remaining 20g butter and whisk well. Put all ingredients with the sauce in the pan / pot and cook over low heat until the dish is warmed through. At the end, add more salt and pepper to taste. Serve the quails by two, topped with sauce, with half of the garnish and the celeriac purée on the side.
This celeriac purée is easily done, though you should not forget to start to prepare it before starting to cook the quails. Anyway, feel free to substitute the accompaniment you find the most suitable.
Skin the celeriac, rinse it then cut it into medium-sized dices (about 1 inch on each side).
Put them in a pot and add cold water to cover. Bring to the boil, add salt, then simmer over medium heat for 30 minutes. Drain the cooked celeriac and transfer to a blender (or use a hand mixer). Add the butter and process until it forms a creamy purée, as smooth as possible. Add more salt and pepper to taste, and serve ! Take note that this purée matches well with seafood too.
Bon appétit, and happy Valentine’s day to you all !