Quail graces many a table in the South. I like to serve it stuffed, because the stuffing helps to keep the bird moist while cooking and the meat is less likely to overcook. This stuffing with fresh morels is one that I often make for Thanksgiving. The baked red peas were inspired by BBQ baked beans. It only seems right to serve them alongside an iconic bird like the bobwhite quail. Both speak to the long history of hunting, gathering, and gardening so precious to the South.
3 cups kosher salt
1 pound fresh morels
1 recipe Cracklin’ Cornbread
½ cup small dice Vidalia onion
½ cup small dice celery
2 tablespoons chopped tarragon
1 teaspoon celery seeds
½ cup chicken stock
1 large egg, lightly beaten
6 semiboneless quail (about 4 ounces each), rinsed under cold water
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup duck fat
1 bunch thyme
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
Green garlic puree
2½ pounds green garlic
1 cup vegetable stock
1 tablespoon cream cheese
Baked sea island red peas, warm
To clean the morels, fill a large, clean bucket or deep container with 5 gallons warm water, add 1 cup of the salt, and stir until it is dissolved. Add the morels and let them soak for 1 hour.Using a wire rack, push the morels down a little and, with your other hand, skim any leaves and debris off the top with a mesh strainer. Remove the rack and gently lift out the morels, being careful not to disturb the debris that falls to the bottom. Repeat this procedure twice using the remaining 2 cups salt, then lay the morels out on a wire rack and let them air-dry at room temperature for 30 minutes to 1 hour, until they are completely dry. Slice the morels into ¼-inch rounds.Crumble the cornbread into a bowl, add the sliced morels, onion, celery, tarragon, celery seeds, chicken stock, and egg, and stir well. The stuffing should be evenly moist.
Stuff each quail with about ½ cup of the stuffing. You will have some left over, which you can bake (in a 350°F oven) or freeze for later use. Season the quail with salt and pepper.Heat two large cast-iron skillets over very high heat. Add 2 tablespoons of the duck fat to each skillet. When the fat shimmers, add 3 quail to each skillet, breast side down, and cook until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Remove the quail from the skillet, reduce the heat to medium, and arrange half the thyme in each skillet to make a bed for the quail. Place the quail seared side up on the thyme and divide the butter and garlic between the skillets. Cook, basting the quail, until they are cooked through, about 6 minutes. The quail are best served at once, but you can hold them in a 200°F oven for up to 10 minutes.
Green garlic puree
Shave the garlic, equal parts green and white, as thin as possible on a mandoline. Wash the shavings in several changes of water.Place the garlic and stock in a large saucepan, bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, and simmer until the garlic is tender, about 7 minutes. Blend the vegetable stock and garlic in a blender on high until very smooth, about 5 minutes. Add the cream cheese and blend for another 2 minutes.
Pour ¼ cup of the garlic puree into the center of each of six warm plates. Place the baked peas on the puree and top each plate with a quail.