Recipe: Southern-Style Quail with Grits and Greens

CELEBRATE A SUCCESSFUL DAY IN BIRD COUNTRY WITH THIS CLASSIC QUAIL RECIPE FROM THE SOUTH

By Hank Shaw

Quail and grits is a traditional meal in many parts of the South, and I’ve seen it served both for supper and for breakfast. Everyone has a different mixture of spices for the quail, and everyone’s collard greens are a little different, but this is certainly a dish you can see all over the South, especially in Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi.
 
Making this the Southern way requires a little attention to detail. First are the grits. If you can possibly find stone-ground white corn grits, use them. To me, there’s nothing better than grits made with this process. Barring that, use some other form of grits or polenta. Don’t use “quick grits.” 

Collard greens are thick, burly cabbage relatives. They need long cooking and should be Army green when done. If you can’t get collards, use kale, chard, or turnip or mustard greens instead; just note that they won’t need as long to cook, maybe 30 minutes instead of an hour. 


SOUTHERN-STYLE QUAIL WITH GRITS AND GREENS

Serves 4

INGREDIENTS


Stewed Collard Greens with a Ham Hock
2 pounds collard greens, chard or kale
1 quart stock (quail, pheasant, or chicken)
2 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1 ham hock or shank
Red wine vinegar and hot sauce to taste

Quail
8 quail, backbones removed and flattened
1 tablespoon paprika
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup flour, for dredging
1/2 cup lard or vegetable oil, preferably peanut oil

Grits
1 cup grits
4 cups water
Salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter

Gravy
1/4 cup minced onion or shallot
2 tablespoons flour
1 1/2 cups stock (quail, pheasant, or chicken)
1/4 teaspoon thyme
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
Salt and black pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, for garnish


METHOD

Start with the collard greens, since they take the longest to cook. Bring the stock and an additional 4 cups of water to a boil. Add the garlic and ham hocks and simmer for 1 hour.

While the ham hock is simmering, cut out the stalks of the collards and discard. Roll the leaves into a cigar shape, and slice into ribbons. 

After an hour has elapsed, add the collard greens, cover, and simmer for another 45 minutes to an hour. When the collards are tender, fish out the ham hock, pull off the meat and chop roughly. Return the meat to the pot. 
While the collards are cooking, start the grits. Bring the water to a boil and add a healthy dose of salt, about two teaspoons. Use a wooden spoon to stir the water. Gradually pour in the grits while you’re stirring the water. Continue stirring without pausing until all the grits are in. Turn the heat down to medium-low, and gently cook the grits for at least 30 minutes, stirring frequently to keep the grits from scorching on the bottom of the pot. You can add a little more water if they get too thick. You want the finished grits to flow a little.

While the grits are cooking, prep the quail. Use kitchen shears to cut out the backbones of each quail. Flatten the quails against a cutting board so they cook evenly. Mix all the spices together and sprinkle them over the quail.

In a large frying pan, heat the lard over medium-high heat until it’s almost smoking. As the fat is heating up, dust as many quail as will fit in your pan in the flour—flour your birds immediately before they can go into the pan; if you flour them too early, they’ll become soggy. Lay as many quail as will fit into your pan, breast-side up. Turn the heat down until you hear the quail sizzle like bacon; you don’t want a raging sizzle. Cook this way for 7 minutes.
 
Turn the oven to 200°F and set a cookie sheet or plate inside. While the quail are cooking, spoon hot fat over the breast side of the quail. This sets the flour crust and will help the birds cook better. Do this several times as the quail fry. 

After 7 minutes, flip the quail and cook another 3 to 5 minutes. When done, move them to the cookie sheet in the oven and fry the remaining quail.

When all the quail are cooked and out of the pan, make the sauce. Pour off all but about 1/4 cup of fat from the pan. Turn the heat to medium-high, and add the minced onion. Cook for 1 minute, then mix in the 2 tablespoons of flour. Let this cook for 3 to 5 minutes, until it gets a nice tan-brown. Start stirring the mixture with one hand, and with the other, slowly pour in the stock. Keep stirring until all the stock is incorporated into the gravy, which should be a little thin. Bring it to a simmer, and add the thyme, the Worcestershire sauce, and the salt and black pepper to taste. Let this simmer for 5 minutes.
 
While the gravy simmers, stir the butter into the grits.

To serve, pour a little gravy into shallow bowls. Top with a big helping of grits. Put the quail on top of the grits. Garnish with the parsley and serve. Serve the collard greens in bowls with vinegar and hot sauce at the table.

This recipe is gleaned from Hank Shaw's newest book, Pheasant, Quail, Cottontail: Upland Birds and Small Game from Field to Feast. Pre-order your copy here, and see Hank on the Wild Game Stage at National Pheasant Fest & Quail Classic in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, February 16 - 18, 2017.