Thursday, January 18, 2007

Stir-Fried Quail with Balsamic Caramel, Basil & Wilted Frisée

I could eat this balsamic caramel with anything: fresh strawberries, vanilla ice cream, sliced tomatoes, or shaved Parmigiano Reggiano. I recently spotted the recipe in my new Sally Schneider cookbook, "The Improvisational Cook," and lamented not having discovered it a few weeks ago when I was attempting to recreate the "Alta" Brussels sprouts—this formula resembles that of the restaurant's much more closely. Schneider's version, just as simple to prepare, tastes like the thick, aged, artisan balsamics available in specialty stores for fifty dollars a bottle. I've now enjoyed this molasses-textured glaze drizzled over pan-seared duck breasts and grilled skirt steak. When the balsamic caramel is paired with basil, however, as in this stir-fried quail dish, the combination is especially delicious. Here I’ve used sturdy frisée as the base for this salad, which loses much of its bitterness when wilted under the heat of the quail. Once in the pan, the quail takes no more than five minutes to cook making this elegant salad of wilted greens, goat cheese, toasted pine nuts and orange segments simple and easy to prepare. Enjoy!

Stir-Fried Quail with Balsamic Caramel and Wilted Frisée
Serves 2

Balsamic caramel:
½ cup Rainwater Madeira
1 cup commercial balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons dark brown sugar

Balsamic Vinaigrette:
2 tsp. honey
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup balsamic vinaigrette
6 tablespoons grapeseed oil

1 package semi-boneless quails (or 4 each)
kosher salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons butter
1 large bunch fresh basil, roughly chopped

1 head frisée, (enough for 2 people)
2 oz goat cheese, crumbled
2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
1 orange, peeled and sectioned, preferably removed from its pith

To make the caramel, place Madeira in a small saucepan and simmer over medium heat until reduced to about 1 tablespoon. Add the balsamic vinegar and boil until the vinegar has reduced to about ¼ cup and is very syrupy and big shiny bubbles are forming at the surface. Watch the mixture very closely at this point—it will burn very easily. If it appears too thin, be assured that it will thicken upon cooling. Remove from the heat and stir in the brown sugar until dissolved. Pour into a clean jar and cool before using.

To make the vinaigrette, whisk together the honey, salt, pepper, garlic and balsamic vinegar in a small bowl. Slowly drizzle in the oil, whisking constantly. Taste, adjust with more salt, pepper or oil if necessary. Store until ready to use.

Remove quail from package and cut each into four sections: remove each leg from the body then split the breast down the middle into two pieces. Season liberally with salt and pepper.

In a large non-stick skillet over high heat melt the butter till hot and bubbly. When it is about to turn brown, add the quail pieces, skin side down first. Let the quail cook undisturbed for 1-2 minutes. Flip and cook for about 2 minutes longer.

Meanwhile, place frisée, goat cheese, pine nuts and orange segments in a bowl. Toss lightly with some of the vinaigrette, err on the side of under-dressing—the frisée will release moisture when wilted and the salad will ultimately be flavored with the balsamic caramel as well.

Arrange frisée mix on a large platter, or keep in the bowl (the platter is only for presentation purposes). When the quail is finished cooking, drizzle 2 tablespoons of the balsamic caramel into the pan then throw in all of the chopped basil. Immediately remove the pan from the heat and transfer the quail to the frisée platter, arranging the pieces on top of the greens, so that it wilts nicely. Serve immediately with a crusty baguette.