Quail with Black-Eyed Peas

At The Inn at Little Washington, Patrick O’Connell marinates his quail in Coca-Cola, saying that it tenderizes them, as well as giving flavor and caramelizing the skin. Now I have had chicken in Coca-Cola at Korova in Paris with its inventor, the incomparable Frederick, the wife of the equally incomparable Pierre Hermé, so I can wax enthusiastic about a sauce made with Coke and cooked with poultry.

But I want to introduce you to another unusual cooking method for poultry that ensures full flavor and a silky texture. Poaching white-fleshed poultry in fat or oil (olive if you can afford it) cooks it in a way that gives you the texture of Chinese “velvet” chicken, and makes it difficult to overcook as long as the fat never boils. An added bonus is that the chicken can rest in the warm fat for up to thirty minutes without overcooking.

I first saw fresh black-eyed peas in a supermarket thirty-five years ago in Cambridge, Massachusetts, when Julia Child was standing there holding up a bag of them and staring at it. Somehow, we got into a conversation about frozen goose versus fresh goose and which type was easiest to cook, and then she wanted to know what I would do with the black-eyed peas. “I don’t know,” I replied. She looked at me kindly.

Later, as an accompaniment to baked ham, I tried them hot with a sherry vinegar vinaigrette mixed with chopped, broiled, apple-wood smoked bacon, and fell in love. Buy the fresh black-eyed peas in the plastic bags and rinse them before using. Even better, look for their more noble cousins, the kind you find fresh in the summer in Alabama.

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Ingredients

  • 4 whole fresh quail
  • 2 cups wet brine
  • 2 ounces fresh ham, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh tarragon leaves, finely chopped
  • 6 cups water-rendered duck or chicken fat, or olive or peanut oil
  • 1 tablespoon freshly grated lemon zest
  • ½ tablespoon fresh sage leaves, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons fresh Italian parsley leaves, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
  • cups fresh black-eyed peas, rinsed and drained
  • 1 cup young fresh peas
  • ½ cup chicken stock
  • ¼ cup extra virgin light yellow olive oil
  • Salt

Method

Put the quail in the brine and refrigerate for 2 hours. Remove them from the brine and pat dry.

Mix the ham and tarragon together, and, lifting up the skin on the breasts of the quail, push this mixture under the skin all over the breasts. Tuck the wings under the quail.

Put the quail in a casserole just large enough to hold them side by side, and pour the fat over them. Heat the fat to about 180 degrees, to the point where you can still put your finger in it for a second, cook 15 minutes and turn off the heat, leaving the quail in the fat for another 15 minutes.

Mix the lemon zest, sage, parsley, and black pepper in a bowl.

Cook the black-eyed peas in boiling salted water for 3 minutes and then add the fresh green peas, cooking them together for another 5 minutes. Drain and put the mixed peas in a pot with the chicken stock and the olive oil. Bring to a boil, season, and turn down the heat just to keep them warm.

Cut the wings (all but the bone closest to the body) off the quail. Put the two peas in the center of hot plates, put the quail on top, and sprinkle each quail with the sage and lemon mixture.

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