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Sunday, October 13, 2013


Simple little ballotines.

Ballotine.  A hot or cold dish based on meat, poultry, game birds or fish in aspic.  The flesh is boned, stuffed, rolled, and tied up with string, usually wrapped in muslin (cheesecloth) - sometimes in the skin- then braised or poached ( galantine). 
                                                 -Larousse Gastronomique
I hadn't boned out a chicken in ages. Fussy. Boring, even. Bones add flavor, right? Why get rid of them? Well, I got a wild hair and sharpened my boning knife. For some ridiculous reason, I thought deboning quail would be much easier than deboning a small chicken. Yep, that's what I thought.

Galantine or ballotine? Or both?

Tucked under partridges, sweetbreads, guinea fowl, and duck breasts, I found four farm raised quail at Chritchfield Meats. Game on for a weekend project.

Day 1.
Using a very sharp boning knife, I removed the neck portions from the quail and carefully cut around the tiny wishbones before pulling them out. After clipping the wings at the shoulder sockets, I pulled the wing joints from the meat and sliced along the backbone to remove the meat from the spine and rib bones, keeping the carcass intact. I could have deboned the tiny legs.  I didn't. Nope. I snipped them off at the sockets, removed the cartilage, and tossed them into a pot with the other bones for stock.

Before moving forward, I covered the quail bones with cold water, added a handful of whole black peppercorns, a bay leaf, and sliced purple cipollini onions (skins on). I brought the stock to a boil, reduced it to a simmer, skimmed the scum without stirring, and let it bubble away for 1 1/2 hours until it reduced to 3/4 cup.After straining the small batch stock through a damp cheesecloth-lined colander, I cooled it in an ice bath and slid into the refrigerator to chill.

The fun part. I covered a large cutting board with plastic wrap, overlapped 2 thinly sliced pieces of pancetta
on the plastic wrap, positioned the boned out quail (skin side down) on top the plastic wrap, smeared finely ground chicken over the meat, and finished with steamed baby kale. After seasoning the filling with salt and cracked black pepper, I used the plastic wrap like a sushi roller and rolled the stuffed quail into cylinders, tying up the ends to form tight seals.

I brought 6 cups of water to a rolling boil, reduced it a gentle simmer, lowered the quail parcels into the water, weighed them down with a small plate to keep them submerged, and poached them for 20 minutes. When they  were cooked through, I scooped them from the poaching liquid, let them cool, and refrigerated them overnight.

Day 2.
Busy work.
Beets, onions, and potatoes. I drizzled unpeeled golden beets and peeled purple cipollini onions with olive oil, sealed them in aluminum foil, and roasted them for an hour. While the beets/onions roasted, I filled two small stock pots with cold water, filled one with peeled Bourbon County pink-fleshed Mountain Rose new potatoes and filled the other pot with peeled Casey County purple sweet potatoes. After boiling the potatoes until they were fork tender, I pureed them in batches (separately) with butter and cream.

I pulled the congealed quail demi-glace from the refrigerator, warmed it gently over a low flame and added blanched pearl onions. When the demi started to bubble, I tossed a few quartered fresh mission figs into the stock to poach for a few seconds. When the figs softened, I pulled the sauce from the heat and set it aside.

First and foremost, I poured myself a two-fisted pilsner of cheap chardonnay.
After breaking the seal on the wrapped quail rolls, I sauteed them in a combination of olive oil and unsalted butter to crisp the poached pancetta. When the bacon caramelized, I slid the ballotines into 350 degree oven to warm through.

I pulled the roasted beets and onions from the oven, slipped the skins from the beets and drizzled them with olive oil. After slicing the ballotines into half inch rounds, I nestled them over ribbons of the potato purees and brushed them with the fig-infused quail jus. I tumbled the roasted beets to the side before finishing with snipped chives, micro sunflower shoots, sliced fresh figs, and julienned red pears.

Alrighty, then. Meat and potatoes.  For such innocent looking food, there was a lot going on.  The deep earthy sweetness of the roasted beets countered the sexy brash freshness of the figs and pears. Soft beets. Wet figs. Crisp pears. Naughty. Although they seemed like polar opposites, they complimented the salty richness of the ballotines and the slight bitterness of the microgreens. While the baby kale got lost in the twice-cooked shuffle, it wasn't missed. Perched on top of the dueling potato purees, plumped with finely ground chicken, encased with bacony pancetta, and napped with subtle quail jus, the quail ballotines were incredible. Tender. Moist. Firm. Rich.

Tiny birds.
Big flavor.

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