12 February 2015

Freezer and Pantry Valentine: Part 2. The Main

Make an impressive three course meal for two for Valentine's Day using ingredients you already have.  For the main, make individual coq au vin.  (I told you it was impressive.)

Go ahead and be dramatic.  Serve tiny whole quail cooked in a rich red wine sauce.  The best part: surprisingly easy and mouthwateringly delicious. 

Quail au Vin for Two

2 quail
2 slices of bacon, chopped (or use pancetta or lardons or back fat)
1 carrot, finely diced
1 stick of celery, finely diced
1 shallot, finely diced (or a small onion, or part of a larger onion)
1 bay leaf
2 stems of thyme
a glass or so of red wine* 

*Preferably a burgundy or pinot noir or similar (we used Nova Scotia's Jost Vineyards Leon Millot), or use whatever you opened recently and did not finish... ha ha ha, right, okay, buy a red wine you don't mind losing a glass from but that you like enough to serve on Valentine's day.  

MAKE AHEADYou probably don't want to be running around like a crazy person feeling harassed and frustrated on Valentine's Day.  So in the morning, make this recipe up to the point of placing the vegetable mixture and browned quail in their pots.  When you are ready to cook, all you have to do is take them out of the fridge, top up with wine and stick them in the oven.  Less time in the kitchen is more time to spend with your sweetheart.

Make sure the quails are well-cleaned; it's not uncommon to find a pin feather or two that require plucking.  Scrub with coarse salt and wipe off with a damp paper towel, leaving some of the salt for seasoning.

Pre-heat oven to 350F.

Put bacon in a cold skillet and heat over medium.  Render the fat and cook the bacon to golden brown but not crispy.  Remove bacon from pan and set aside.

Brown the quail in the bacon fat until golden on all sides.  Remove from  pan and set aside.
Put the mirepoix and bacon in the bottom of the dish, tuck the
whole quail in, top up with wine and it's ready to go.

Saute the carrot, celery, shallot and bay leaf in the remaining bacon fat (if there's not enough, add more from your jar of bacon fat... if for some insane reason you don't save bacon fat, use olive oil).  When the vegetables begin to soften, deglaze the pan with a splash of wine (use the more traditional brandy for deglazing, if you have some... we used ours up at New Year's and haven't replaced it yet).

Remove the bay leaf.  Mix the veg and bacon together and divide into two 1-cup lidded ovenproof pots or ramekins. Divide the thyme between dishes, using some under the quail and some on top.  Tuck a quail tightly into each pot and fill to almost full with red wine.  Cover with lids (or aluminium foil) and place on a baking tray in case of overflow.

Bake covered for 25 minutes.  Remove cover and bake for 15 minutes.  If they look dry (this is fairly unlikely, but check anyway), add a bit more wine.

Serve with a simple salad and some crusty bread.  Or just the salad.  Or whatever side you can make with what's on hand.

Quail au vin for a candlelit dinner... swoon....


Okay, okay.  You might not have quail lying around in your freezer.  Grouse or partridge will do if you have it (though you will only need one, quartered so it can be squished in the pot - so really, quail is best for visual impact).  Maybe you don't have neighbours who raise or hunt quail.  Maybe you missed the after Christmas sale of "fancy" poultry at your local grocer.  No worries.  You can buy 6 frozen quail** for $10-12, which sounds expensive but is 3 romantic dinners for two, or 6 self-validating and empowering meals for one.

**They need to thaw at least somewhat before separating, but since you will be thoroughly cooking quail eventually, go ahead and re-freeze the partially thawed quail.  Or, if you have your tea-smoker operating for cod, smoke the leftover quails before freezing (or refrigerating to use in the next few days).

This is not Julia's coq au vin, I know, but don't worry about it.  This is not about perfecting a classic french dish, it's about romance.  Don't underestimate the power of being a bit dramatic; serving a whole bird in a pot of rich wine sauce is pretty dramatic.  Also, most importantly, quail au vin is delicious.  Which is why you only make one per person; if you make more, you will eat too many and that will spoil your dessert.

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