As I have mentioned in a few earlier posts, my boys, whom I homeschool, are learning about medieval life this year. Right now we are studying what the people of the Middle Ages typically ate. Peasants were deigned to subsist mainly on beans and root vegetables, grains, berries, and whatever herbs they could grow or forage. The nobility frequently celebrated food with great feasts and elaborate dinners made with the very expensive spices the fortunes they maintained as a result of peasant labor, inheritance, and appropriation of lands allowed them to purchase. Roast birds and rich sauces were only part of these meals.
Blackbird and pigeon were frequently served to the nobility. As we are unwilling or lawfully unable to cook these birds in our home kitchen even for educational purposes, I needed to find a suitable substitute that would mimic what a dish made of common birds in nature would be like. Cornish game hens were my first choice, but when I reached into the freezer case to add the only game hens available in our area to my grocery cart for our medieval food lesson, I saw a box of four frozen quail on the shelf above. I remembered that this bird was also frequently cooked and served during the time period we are studying. Perfect. My sons had never eaten quail and had no idea just how small these little birds are, so in the cart they went.
I wanted to pan sear them since they were already split and flattened. It would have been awfully difficult to stuff them whole, I suppose. I had also purchased blackberries on my last trip, something I was pleasantly surprised to see in the middle of winter and offered at a reasonable price, the reason being they were imported from Mexico.
Blackbirds…quail…blackberries. Black…bird. Quail with blackberry sauce…Dinner.
I love pureed parsnips, plain, with just a little salt and I thought their slightly sweet and mildly aromatic flavor would go nicely with the other elements of our planned dinner. The use of this common root vegetable would also make every ingredient that went into the meal authentic to Middle Ages cuisine.
Rather than letting the boys help me, as they’ve been doing when we cook medieval food, I just cooked away and surprised them with the little birds on their plates. They now understand how the medieval nobility could eat course after course of rich foods during a feast. The portions are tiny and so are quail. It was fun, but the next time I make this dish I’m using big, fat, chicken breasts so my boys won’t still be hungry when they’ve cleaned their plates.
4 quail, butterflied
Salt and pepper
1 clove of garlic, minced
3 to 4 T extra virgin olive oil
3 T cabernet sauvignon
3/4 c. chicken stock
1/4 c. fresh blackberries
1 T half and half
5 to 6 parsnips
Water to cover
Prepare the parsnips by peeling them.
Slice them in rounds and place in a saucepan. Cover with cold water and bring to a boil.
Add a bit of salt. Reduce heat to a low simmer and cook 30 to 40 minutes until tender. Drain, reserving some of the liquid.
Heat oven to 350 degrees F.
While the parsnips cook, pan sear the quail by heating olive oil in a braising pan. Saute the garlic in the oil over medium to high heat then add the birds, skin side down.
Keep them moving as they brown and turn to brown the opposite side. Approximately 10 minutes per side. Transfer to a baking dish and finish in the oven to thoroughly cook, 15 to 20 minutes.
Deglaze the braising pan with wine, scraping the bottom to release browned bits of garlic and quail.
Increase heat to high. Add chicken stock and continue to scrape bottom until all the cooked on bits are incorporated into the chicken stock mixture. Reduce heat to a simmer and slowly allow it to reduce in volume.
Place the cooked parsnip slices in the bowl of a food processor. Whir with some of the reserved liquid until it reaches a smooth, creamy consistency liked mashed potatoes. Season with salt and pepper, if desired, to taste.
Make the blackberry sauce by adding the blackberries to the reduced liquid in the braising pan. I broke some of them up to allow them to combine but the majority I left whole. Heat to soften for a few minutes.
Increase heat to high and add the half and half.
Quickly reduce then remove from the heat source.
To serve, place a portion of the parsnip puree on a dinner plate. Lay a finished quail over the top and drizzle with the sauce.
Makes 4 dinner servings and 6 servings of Parsnip Puree.