I’m proud of myself for sticking to my guns and not being tempted to pump out a holiday-themed column. That doesn’t mean, however, that I can resist the temptation to follow current trends because, hey, I’m trennnnndy, and though I’m usually apolitical, I do enjoy the entertainment value of some of our politicians. Especially those who become the butt of multiple jokes, such as former Vice President Joe Biden—he’s always good for a few hilarious memes. He reminds me of my other favorite political comedian—former Vice President Dan Quail. For those of you too young to know, or too old to recall, the ex-veep is mostly remembered for his goofiness. But that’s not why I’m a loyal Dan Quail fan. It’s not his silliness—but his name. I’m a big fan of his last name: Quail. I bet y’all saw that coming. I LOVE QUAIL! (And, yes, I know it’s spelled Quayle. It’s funner my way, doncha think?)
I first encountered the admirable little birds when I was a small child visiting my grandparents on their western Pennsylvania farm. There, I was delighted and fascinated by the mysterious animal continually crying out “bob white, bob white!” The only explanation I ever heard from my facetious grandfather was that the bird was called Bob White and liked the sound of its own name.
It wasn’t until many years later at culinary school that I learned whole story. Bob White was the name of a type of quail! Who knew? I had just been introduced to the intoxicating pleasures of quail consumption, I was all the more fascinated.
The “bob white” sound these clever birds make is actually the male’s mating call, heard only in the spring and summer months. Quick translation: “Hey, baby, I’m the real Bob White, much cooler than that feeble dude over yonder!”
Over the years, I’ve prepared quail in myriad ways and the result has always been memorable. Have I mentioned that I love quail? These cute, diminutive flavor bombs are by far my favorite game bird. They’re all dark meat, which is slightly sweet, slightly gamey, slightly chewy and, when cooked properly, juicy, succulent and delicious. The most important fact to remember when preparing quail is to NOT OVERCOOK THE BIRDS. They’ll get tough and dry—what a sad waste of nature’s gift.
My favorite way to cook quail is grilling—no, wait … hot smoking them … no, stuff and roast ’em … uh, wait a sec … fry them … mmm, bone ’em out, sauté the breasts and braise the thighs … no. Well, I can’t decide, but whichever method you choose the taste will be amazing. Try this smoked tomato chutney as a side, and call me BOB WHITE from now on.
Chef Bill’s Smoked Tomato Chutney
• 1 tsp. cumin seeds
• 1 tsp. mustard seeds
• 1 cup onion, small dice
• 1 Tbsp. ginger, minced
• 2 garlic cloves, minced
• 1 jalapeno, seeded and small dice
• 2 Tbsp. sugar
• 1 tsp. curry powder
• 1/2 tsp. turmeric
• 1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
• 16 Roma tomatoes, smoked, medium dice
• Salt & pepper to taste
1. Toast the cumin and mustard seeds in a pan until they pop. Add oil, turmeric and curry powder, toast 1 minute. Add ginger, garlic, onion and jalapeno, sauté.
2. Add sugar, melt. Add tomatoes, season. Simmer 15 minutes.
3. Stir in cilantro, adjust seasoning.