Game birds are more difficult to find for a reasonable price than you’d like – makes you think about buying a shotgun – but I turned up some lovely frozen quail at my local market (The Roslindale Fish Market for those in the Boston area) and did them up with a sort of composite recipe initially inspired by Scappi (in his Opera).
Scappi, Opera (1570), recipe 131:
Several ways to roast and do up turtle-doves and quail (side note: I had a de-clawed cat growing up whose undying desire it was to catch a turtle dove. Never did it – caught moles by the hundreds, robins, a bat once, but never one of those enticingly round turtle-doves)
Get a turtle-dove in its season, which goes from June to the end of November. Right after it is dead, pluck it dry and sear it on coals without drawing it. Put it on a spit crosswise and set it to roast over a sprightly little fire, turning it rapidly so its grease will not drip off. When it is almost done, make up its crust of flour, fennel flour, sugar, salt and grated bread…Sometimes fat quail are semi-salted in salt and fennel flour and left in a wooden or earthenware vessel for three or four days.
In the course of my investigations, I ran across some charming Provençal ideas for quail which included wrapping them in grape leaves and then roasting them. I merged these – dredging the quail in fennel flour (which I made with a 20 to 1, or thereabouts, mixture of mortar crushed fennel and flour) and salt before wrapping them in grape leaves and putting them on the spit.
I found the grape leaves adhere pretty well and you can just tuck them in around the thighs to keep them situated.
The grape leaves slowly catch fire and disintegrate, and the remains are easily removed. They keep the quail wonderfully moist, and leave a very faint briny flavor.
I also cooked quail for Crudifest, using the same techniques, but on a larger scale. I soaked a wooden dowel overnight to keep it from catching fire, but it quickly caught fire anyway.
Also it was pouring rain.
I tried the second suggestion as well – even leaving it for a few days in an earthenware pot. The quail starts to sweat and by the end, appeared to be beginning to melt from the salt (which gives them a slightly troubling appearance but is harmless). It’s not bad like this, but doesn’t compare to the wrapped in grape leaves method, especially here at the start of grilling season. I really can’t recommend these enough – truly charming finger food. This recipe would probably work on partridge or squab, probably snipe, if they exist.
The more I think about it, the more I’m inclined to wrap everything in grape leaves before grilling – chicken breasts, for sure, but also hamburgers, pork chops, certainly fish (swordfish, halibut, mako shark), and vegetables, but maybe not hot dogs.