The ornithological quail is somewhat of a mystery to me. It seems that various small brown birds in various parts of the world, from various families, sub-families, genera etc are called ‘quail.’ I don’t know by which specific scientific name the version presented at restaurants in this part of the world go by – but I love them. The culinary variety of quail, I really get.
There is another culinary ‘quail’ that you might not be so familiar with. This one is a verb, and it has quite a different origin.
The name of the bird appears to be derived from attempts to represent its call. I have never heard a call from a quail in the wild, only a call to come to eat one on my plate, so I don’t know if this is correct, but it is the Oxford English Dictionary’s explanation, so it will do for me.
The verb ‘to quail’ on the other hand, appears to derive from several very old Saxon, German, and/or English words connoting suffering, torture, death, and pain.
One of the now obsolete meanings of the verb is ‘to cause something to curdle or coagulate.’ There are other meanings, as you are aware. I am sure you would quail at the thought of your custard qualing, and I would certainly quail at the thought of my quail being cooked badly. I wish I could find a recipe for quail which included method instructions on quailing (or not). I would not want quailed quail custard. Is there a quail recipe which includes quailed milk (aka ‘cottage cheese’)?
As I cannot find such an linguistic treat, I give you two separate recipes. The first is for a delicious-sounding, beautifully garnished braise of quails, flavoured with herbs, spices, and verjus. The second is more obscure, being much older. It is a sort of puree of chicken ground up small, and cooked in spiced and sweetened almond milk before being ‘quailed’ with white wine or vinegar and then strained through a sieve.
To boyle Quailes
First, put them into a Pot with sweete broth, and set them on the fire: then take a Carret roote, and cut him in pieces, and put into the potte, then take parsely with sweet hearbes, and chop them a little, and put them into the Potte, then take Sinamome, Ginger, Nutmegges, and Pepper, and put in a little Vergice, and so season it with salt, serve them upon soppes, and garnish them with fruite.
The Good Huswife’s Jewel (1587)
Blaunche de ferry.
Take Almaundys, an draw þer-of an Chargeaunt Mylke; take Caponys & sethe hem; & whan þey ben y-now, take hem vppe, & ley hem on a fayre bord, & strype of þe Skyn, & draw out þe Brawn & hew hem smal; do hem on a Morter, & grynd hem smal; caste on a potte, & fayre whyte Salt, & boyle hem; & whan þey bey boylid, sette it out, & caste on whyte Wyne or Venegre, & make it quayle; take a clene cloþe and lete it be tryid a-brode, & stryke it wyl vnder-nethe alle þe whyle þat þer wol auȝt out þer-of; þan caste Blaunche powder þer-on, or pouder Gyngere y-mellyd with Sugre; stryke it clene, take a newe Erþen potte, oþer a clene bolle, & caste þin mete þer-on, þer plantyng Anys in comfyte.
Two fifteenth-century cookery-books : Harleian MS. 279 (ab 1430), & Harl. MS. 4016 (ab. 1450), with extracts from Ashmole MS. 1439, Laud MS. 553, & Douce MS. 55; by Thomas Austin.
Quotation for the Day.
Quaill, and mallard, are not but for the richer sorte.
W.Waterman, tr. of J. Boemus; Fardle of Facions (1555)