One of the advantages of living in the South is that quail is readily available in most supermarkets and specialty stores. Unfortunately, quail is something most people don't cook at home and only think of ordering when they see it on the menu at a fancy restaurant. They are just as easy to cook as chicken and if you look for them or ask your grocer, you will be surprised to find them, usually in boxes, where the frozen turkeys and ducks are kept. Remember, though, that they are tiny little things, usually smaller than you remember, so you will need at least 2 per person.
I am posting this recipe at this time because you might just be lucky enough to find bottled chestnuts on sale after the holidays. It really beats having to shell and roast fresh ones. I understand Trader Joe's carries them so check for them next time you visit the store.
4 cups roasted, shelled and skinned chestnuts (2 pounds in shell or about 4 (7½- ounce) jars peeled whole)
1 bay leaf
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 large shallots, thinly sliced
6 tablespoons port
5 tablespoons cognac
Freshly ground black pepper
12 semiboneless quail
1 small onion, quartered
1 medium carrot, cut into 4 pieces
1 celery stalk, cut into 4 pieces
5 sprigs fresh thyme
1 garlic clove, peeled
½ cup full-bodied red wine
1 teaspoon cornstarch
2 tablespoons water
kitchen string; wooden picks
Bring a large saucepan of salted water to boil; add chestnuts and bay leaf; cook until chestnuts are tender, about 20 minutes. Drain chestnuts; discard bay leaf.
Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat; add shallots and cook, stirring frequently, until lightly golden, about 3 minutes. Add all but 18 chestnuts (reserve these for later); cook, stirring and mashing chestnuts in pan with a fork for 2 minutes. Stir in 4 tablespoons port and 3 tablespoons cognac. Continue cooking, stirring constantly, until stuffing is fairly dry, about 2 minutes; season to taste with salt and pepper, then spread on a plate to cool.
Discard any disposable metal skewers from cavity of each quail, then rinse quail inside and out and pat dry. Stuff 1 quail with 3 tablespoons stuffing, pressing and shaping it to fill out breast. Tie legs together with string and push legs up against body. Thread cavity closed with a wooden pick. Repeat with remaining quail.
Put oven rack in middle position and heat oven to 350°.
Season quail with salt and pepper. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Brown 6 quail on all sides, about 10 minutes total. Transfer quail, breast side up, to a large shallow baking pan. Wipe skillet clean and brown remaining 6 quail in same manner in remaining tablespoon oil, transferring quail to baking pan once browned.
Add onion, carrot, celery, thyme, garlic and 1 tablespoon cognac to skillet. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring and scraping up any browned bits, for 2 minutes. Scatter reserved chestnuts, onion, carrot, celery, thyme and garlic around pan with quail.
Remove strings and picks from quail, then roast quail until just cooked through (cut into inner thigh; meat will be slightly pink), 6 to 8 minutes.
Transfer quail to a serving dish. In a small saucepan, combine wine, remaining 2 tablespoons port and remaining tablespoon cognac; bring to a boil, then remove from heat. Dissolve cornstarch in water and stir into sauce; bring to a simmer, remove from heat and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve quail with sauce.
You might also enjoy:
Roast Quail With Fresh Figs And Balsamic
Adapted from La Cucina Italiana