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Maple Syrup and Bourbon Glazed Quail, Whey Not?

(post, Judith Klinger)

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Maple Syrup & Bourbon Glazed Quail, Whey Not? 

Our friend, the Pizza Guru, took a trip back home to Vermont and came back bearing a gift of maple syrup. It’s such an American ingredient and as I looked around my kitchen filled with very Italian ingredients I thought, “What am I going to do with this? Maple syrup pasta??!”

Fortunately, a quick conversation on Serious Eats, and I had more than enough inspiration, but funnily enough I paired it with another American ingredient: bourbon.  Was I embracing terroire, or just not thinking out of the box? Regardless, it turns out maple syrup and bourbon love each other!

Maple Syrup & Bourbon Glaze
¼ cup maple syrup
¼ cup bourbon
1 dried chili pepper, crumbled
¼ t Viet Namese cinnamon (very pungent)
Fresh nutmeg
¼ t grains of paradise
2-3 juniper berries

Place all the ingredients in a saucepan and gently reduce just a little, stop when the glaze starts to thicken. 

I like to brine my quail, but instead of using a regular salt brine, I used the whey left over from mozzarella (the whey is that liquid that comes with mozzarella).  The intrepid experimenters at Ideas in Food and Studio Kitchen had been fooling around with whey marinades and it is an intriguing way to tenderize meat. The lactose in the whey acts as the tenderizer, and commercial meat processors will actually use lactose crystals to tenderize meat. I’ve also experimented with yogurt as a tenderizer, and it works, but then you encounter the snot factor. I don’t know the science here, but a few times I wound up with a seriously mucilaginous sauce. This describes the snot factor, which is defined as when you bring the fork up to your mouth a long string of sauce snot clings to your plate. It’s sort of charming with melted cheese; it’s just revolting with a brown sauce. I’m happy to report that whey tenderized the meat, left no discernible flavor and there was zero snot factor. 

Science lesson is over and now the rest is easy. Brush the quail with the glaze. You really do need a brush, if you pour, you’ll waste too much.
On the subject of trussing: this is your personal preference. I find I encounter problems with over roasting the non-trussed areas of the bird and I rather like the look of the untrussed bird in all it's wild abandon.
 Roast the quail at 375F for about 35 minutes, basting the quail every 8-10 minutes.  About 10 minutes before the quail is done, drain off the pan juices and added them to the glaze, reduce the sauce again and continued painting the birds with the pan juice glaze. The overall result was fantastic; the glaze was crackling hard, very flavorful and just the right amount of finger licking sticky. 

One last note about maple syrup, as Pizza Guru gave me the full rundown. He is a versatile fellow, isn’t he? This was ungraded syrup that he got at a Vermont coop and it was a revelation. Not super sweet, not particularly viscous, it was so delicately flavored you could sip it from a cordial glass and be quite happy. I’m now spoiled and will be on the hunt for some of this nectar when we get back to NY. 

P.S. I also tried the glaze on some chicken legs….and it is a fine, fine thing this maple syrup bourbon glaze!