In honor of Bastille Week, this recipe was inspired by the cuisine of chef Daniel Boulud, who I worked with in 2004 and 2005 to co-write his cookbook, Braise (Ecco, 2006). At heart, this recipe is characteristically French, composed of lovely little quail that are browned on the stove, then finished in the oven and served with a simple, seasonal cherry pan sauce. But it’s also got a hint of the exotic from the marinade of ras el hanout, a North African spice mixture scented with dried rose petals, ginger, cinnamon, and coriander. Chef Boulud was one of New York’s first haute-cuisine chefs to explore global spices and ingredients, and blend them into his classic Escoffier-based French cuisine. And this dish strives to reflect just that. Before we get to the specifics of the recipe, here are a few pearls of wisdom from Daniel that stuck with me:
10 Things I Learned from Daniel Boulud
1. A zippy garnish is your best friend. Freshly grated lemon zest or horseradish, minced garlic, fresh herbs, fragrant spices, flaky sea salt, a drizzle of good oil, etc. can add enough verve to turn ‘eh’ into excellent.
2. Reduce stock and wine in a separate saucepan before adding it to a braise or stew. This really concentrates the flavors and keeps the liquid intense rather than wimpy.
3. Never overcrowd the pan when browning meats (or in this case quail) or you will steam the flesh rather than bronze it.
4. Use the best ingredients. You’ve heard this before but it makes all the difference.
5. Grind your own spices just before using. This gives you the most fragrance and taste and can perfume your whole kitchen.
6. When you grow up on a farm in France rabbits are never pets.
7. Pigs feet have a lot of bones.
8. Adding a piece of oxtail to a beef stew will thicken and enrich the sauce because of all the gelatin and marrow the oxtail contains. Or skip the usual boneless cubes of meat and serve oxtail stew instead.
9. Caul fat is more beautiful than the finest lace, and tastier too. Use it to wrap stuffed foods or hold together meatballs or sausages. It melts away while it cooks but will keep things together and keep them moist as well.
10. Be gracious, generous, and just plain nice. If Daniel Boulud, one of the most famous French celebrity chefs in the world, can be, so can you.
Pan-Roasted Quail with Ras el Hanout and Cherries
Serves: 6 as an appetizer; 2 to 3 as a main course.
6 (4-ounce) semi-boneless quail, rinsed and patted dry
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 ¼ teaspoon coarse kosher salt, plus additional, to taste
1 teaspoon black pepper, plus additional, to taste
1 tablespoon ras-el-hanout¼ cup finely chopped shallots
1 ½ pounds Rainier or Bing cherries, pitted (3 cups)
2 teaspoons demerara sugar
2 teaspoons sherry vinegar
Fresh mint leaves, for serving
2. Preheat the oven to 375° F. Heat a large skillet over high heat. Add 1 tablespoon oil. Add half the quail and sear, without moving, until undersides are very golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Turn quail and sear other side, 2 to 3 minutes more. Transfer quail to a baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining oil and quail. Transfer baking sheet to the oven and roast until quail is no longer pink and juices run clear, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer meat to a cutting board and let stand 5 minutes.
3. While the quail roasts, return the skillet to medium heat. Add the shallot, the ras-el-hanout, and a pinch of salt; cook, stirring, until tender, about 3 minutes. Stir in the cherries and sugar and increase heat to medium-high. Cook until cherries are soft, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in 1/4 cup water and cook until syrupy. Add the vinegar and cook 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper. Spoon cherries over quail and garnish with torn mint leaves.