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Grilled Quail with Chanterelles, Pancetta, and Soft Polenta
(recipe, Connie Green & Sarah Scott)
For both Sarah and me, fall is branded with the memories of our big fathers toting home these little birds. This recipe could as easily be called our "Daddy's Bagged Georgia Quail over Grits with Bacon and Wild Mushrooms." This is just so delicious. Little game birds nested beside "Italian grits" with corn-loving chanterelles draped over the browned birdie skin is as autumn as autumn can be.
For the quail
- 12 boneless quail
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 12 thin slices pancetta
For the quail jus
- 1 Tbsp. pure olive oil
- 2 thin slices pancetta, cut into ¼-inch dice
- Reserved quail wings (above)
- ⅓ cup finely diced onion
- 1 garlic clove, finely minced
- ½ tsp. kosher salt
- 2 cups homemade chicken stock
For the chanterelles
- 3 Tbsp. unsalted butter
- ½ lb. cleaned chanterelles, torn into ½-inch pieces
- ½ tsp. kosher salt
- ⅛ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
- 2 garlic cloves, finely minced
- Reserved quail jus (above)
- 2 Tbsp. finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
For the polenta
- 1 tsp. kosher salt, or more to taste
- ¾ cup polenta or coarse-ground cornmeal
- 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
- 2 Tbsp. grated Parmesan
- ¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper, or more to taste
- For the quail: Cut the wings off the quail at the breast and set aside to make the sauce. Season the quail lightly with salt and pepper. (Or brine them ahead of time; see Note, below.)
- Wrap each quail with a slice of the pancetta, overlapping the slices on the back of the quail. Place on a baking sheet and refrigerate until ready to use, up to 4 hours. Remove from the refrigerator 1 hour before cooking.
- For the quail jus: Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the pancetta and cook until softened and just starting to brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the quail wings, stirring occasionally, then add the onion, garlic, and salt. Continue cooking until the wings are browned and the onion and garlic are tender, 4 to 5 more minutes. Add the chicken stock scraping the bottom of the pan to incorporate all the cooked bits. Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat and simmer until reduced to about ¾ cups liquid, 12 to 14 minutes. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer, discard the solids, and set aside until ready to cook the chanterelles.
- For the chanterelles: Heat the butter in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. When the butter is melted and bubbling, add the chanterelles, tossing to coat evenly with the butter. Add the salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms have released their liquid. Continue cooking until the liquid has evaporated and the mushrooms are starting to brown and caramelize.
- Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Add the quail jus and turn the heat to high. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes, or until the pan juices are slightly thickened. Turn off the heat and hold the mushrooms in a warm place until it's time to finish the dish.
- For the polenta: Place 4 cups water and the salt in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil. Slowly add the polenta, whisking continuously to prevent lumping. When the mixture returns to a boil, turn down the heat to a simmer and cook, stirring frequently, for at least 35 minutes, or until the polenta is tender. You may need to whisk in additional water, ¼ cup at a time, if the polenta gets took thick while cooking.
- Whisk in the butter, Parmesan, and pepper. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt and/or pepper as needed. Thin with additional water, if needed. Remove from the that, cover, and hold in a warm place while you grill the quail.
- To finish: Prepare a grill to medium-high heat. Place the quail on the grill, back side down, and sear the ends of the pancetta slices together. Cook for 5 to 6 minutes, then carefully turn over the quail, being careful to keep the pancetta slices intact. Cook for 5 to 6 more minutes, or until just cooked through. Remove the quail from the grill and let rest for 5 minutes before serving. (You can pull them off earlier if you like your quail medium rare.)
- Stir the polenta, adding water if needed to thin the texture. Rewarm the mushrooms.
- For individual servings, divide the polenta among 6 deep bowls or dishes. Top with 2 quail per person and spoon over some chanterelles and jus. Garnish with the parsley. For family style, spoon the polenta into the center of a large platter. Lay the quail down the middle and spoon over the chanterelles and jus. Garnish with the parsley.
Tips and techniques: Brining the quail a day ahead gives them more flavor and makes them more moist and succulent when cooked. Use a proportion of 2 tablespoons kosher salt to 2 quarts water, plus 1 bay leaf, 3 fresh thyme sprigs, and 1 crushed garlic clove for the brining mixture.
The quail jus can be made a day ahead and refrigerated in an airtight container overnight or up to a week. Homemade chicken stock is best here, but you can use water instead, for a lighter flavor. If using canned chicken broth, use less salt and adjust the seasoning at the end of cooking.
The brined quail can be wrapped with the pancetta and refrigerated for up to 6 hours before cooking. It's best to do it the day it will be cooked and served, not a day ahead.