From Wild About Game by Janie Hibler.
Yield: Serves 6
This remarkable game dish comes from Michael Chiarello, executive chef of Tra Vigne in St. Helena, California. The birds are browned in olive oil, then cooked standing upright in polenta. They make a stunning presentation at a casual dinner party with guests who don't mind eating the tiny birds with their fingers.
The secret is to bake the polenta in a small enough dish – for instance, a 9-inch baking dish – so that it is at least 1-1/2 inches thick to support the birds. Be careful not to crowd the birds – they can be slightly touching on the sides, but if they are too close, they won't cook evenly.
If you wish, add some roasted but slightly undercooked spring vegetables to the polenta, such as small onions, baby carrots, or raw peas, and the dish will be an entire meal. Or, serve it with a tomato-based vegetable dish, such as ratatouille.
12 wild or farm-raised quail or other small game birds, necks removed, 6 to 8 ounces each
2 to 3 tablespoons Coriander-Fennel Rub or seasoning of choice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large garlic clove, chopped
Fresh rosemary or parsley sprigs for garnish
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 tablespoon coarse salt
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
4 cups homemade chicken stock or reduced-sodium chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup semolina
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and grease a 9 x 9-inch baking dish.
2. Season the birds with the rub of your choice. Set aside while you prepare the polenta. Pour the polenta into the baking dish.
3. In a large skillet, heat the oil and garlic over medium-high heat. Add the birds and thoroughly brown them on all sides. Remove the pan from the heat and let the birds cool until they can be handled without burning your fingers. This step can be done several hours in advance.
4. Arrange the quail in a circle by taking each bird and standing it upright in the polenta, breast meat facing out. Gently push the bird down into the polenta until it can stand by itself. Put the next bird alongside the first and repeat for the remaining quail.
5. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until the juices run a rosy color when a bird is poked with a fork. Garnish with sprigs of fresh rosemary or parsley.
Makes a scant 1/4 cup
This rub can be used on all game, but it is exceptionally good on quail, partridge, grouse, pheasant, and rabbit.
Put the fennel and coriander seeds in a small pan over high heat and toast for 2 to 3 minutes, until the seeds turn a deep golden brown. Put the seeds in a food processor fitted with a steel blade and process until finely ground. It does not have to be perfectly smooth. Stir together with the salt and pepper. Store in an airtight jar.
Semolina is finely ground durum or other hard wheat that is used in pasta making. In this recipe, it is mixed with the cornmeal to make a softer- textured polenta. If you wish, substitute another ½ cup cornmeal in its place. Polenta is the perfect accompaniment to roast quail, other game birds, and grilled venison.
Heat the chicken stock and salt in a 2-quart saucepan over medium heat until almost boiling. Reduce the heat to a simmer, mix together the cornmeal and semolina, and slowly stir it into the hot stock, stirring constantly with a wire whisk. To avoid lumps, continue stirring until all the polenta has been added and the mixture begins to thicken, 24 to 25 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the cheese and butter. Season with salt, if necessary.
NOTE: For the Quail Roasted in Polenta, immediately pour the polenta into the prepared baking dish.
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