July here on the East Coast U.S. means hot days with long lasting light, when we often cook outdoors for informal gatherings of friends and family, with meals served in our garden. As the sun goes down, the oil lamps and candles are lit, and we watch fireflies flitting across the flowers and grass. These can be lazy days, when spending too much time in the kitchen just doesn’t seem quite right. It’s the season when casual menus mean quick-cooking meat and vegetables on the grill and make-ahead wilt-proof salads from the fridge.
So when Paper Chef announced the theme of “July” and three ingredients – quail, cabbage and lime – it was obvious what to do. Lime epitomizes the refreshments of summer, being grated and squeezed to lend its citrus tang to all manner of dishes and drinks. Just-harvested cabbage too is a staple of summertime entertaining, with so many possibilities raw or cooked — even grilled. Quail is an interesting choice, and certainly lends itself to the grill but ever so quickly and gently since its tiny frame can cause the meat to dry out in the blink of an eye. I considered making the quail indoors in a sauce since it’s surely the smallest bird I’ve ever cooked. Even smaller than a Poussin. It measures 2 x 4 inches and at that is considered “jumbo.” A quail makes a Rock Cornish Game Hen look like a turkey!
I happen to live near Griggstown Quail Farm, an environmentally friendly producer of poultry that ranges from quail, pheasant and partridge to chicken, duck and turkey. Outside of our community, people would recognize the poultry by the name of its distributor D’Artagnan, also local. According to the website, the 75-acre farm accommodates 70,000 quail, 35,000 pheasants, 150,000 chickens as well as, seasonally, Mallard and Muscovy ducks, turkey and partridge. They’re all grain-fed and allowed to range freely. The processing is supposedly meticulous and happens onsite, a good thing. So for me, with a quick trip to the farm (or farmers’ market), I had four little quail. I prepared a marinade and basting sauce of honey, lime juice and ginger and cooked the little birds over a medium low grill for less than 5 minutes a side or until a tiny cake tester showed the juices running clear. Stay right next to them or they will burn, or petrify.
I served the quail with a shredded cabbage and cucumber salad — coleslaw – tossed with a miso-lime dressing. Raw, crunchy and slightly sweet, tangy with the lime juice, a good counterpoint to the gamey deepness of the quail. To balance things, I roasted some potatoes with a little oil combined with lime zest, salt and chili pepper. The texture of the potato, soft and yet crunchy and slightly hot from the peppers, contrasted beautifully with the slaw, and both worked with the morsels of tender quail meat.
Cabbage and Cucumber Salad with Miso Lime Dressing
½ head small cabbage
1 Taiwan or other small cucumber
Miso Lime Dressing
Core and shred the cabbage finely. If using a small cucumber with tender skin, slice it in half lengthwise and cut into half-moon slices. If using a larger cucumber, partially peel it (stripes), remove the seeds and slice finely. Slice the white, light green and a little of the dark green portions of the scallions. Toss with the Miso Lime Dressing and set aside for about ten minutes before serving.
Miso Lime Dressing
3 tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice
1 tbsp brown rice miso
1 tbsp brown sugar
½ tsp mustard powder
1 tbsp light olive oil or other vegetable oil
Combine all ingredients and set aside for a few minutes before using.
Grilled Marinated Quail
2 tbsp lime juice
2 tbsp honey
1 tsp lime zest
1 tsp grated ginger
½ tsp chili powder
1 tsp rice vinegar
Optional: a few drops of sesame oil
Prepare the quail by tying them into little bundles. Combine the rest of the ingredients and pour over the quail in a bowl to marinate for about 10 minutes. Do not marinate too long or the lime juice will “cook” the quail. Grill over medium-low coals for 3 minutes a side (3 sides – right breast, left breast, bottom), watching them carefully so they don’t burn. Test for doneness with a sharp cake tester or turkey truss. They’re done when the juices run clear.
Lime and Chili Roasted Potatoes
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Slice the potatoes and toss them with a sprinkling of olive oil. Sprinkle on chili powder, a little salt and lime zest. Roast, turning once, until both sides are brown, about a total of 12 minutes.