Try as I might, I cannot quell my passion for quail. I crave it this time of year especially and no holiday season would be complete without it. Let me explain the source of my lifelong obsession for this tasty flight of fancy.
It all began when I was a kid growing up in small-town Louisiana and my Uncle Jerry — the closest thing I had to a grandfather. My uncle was an extraordinary fisherman and hunter who never hesitated in taking me along for an adventure. We fished trotlines along the Pearl River and loaded the boat with catfish on many occasions. But it was his quail-hunting skills that captured the family’s attention each and every holiday season.
My uncle hosted a Christmas Eve dinner every year that brought all the Grahams together at the dinner table to feast on a magnificent quail dinner with all the trimmings. My aunt Lucy would fry up the quail and then smother them down into a stew infused with the holy trinity of seasonings along with smoked sausage and wild mushrooms. I recall the ensuing family feeding frenzy interrupted only by the occasional discovery of birdshot against tooth which always got a chuckle from Uncle Jerry. “No store-bought quail here, this is fresh-killed,” he’d proudly shout to everyone within earshot.
My dear uncle lived to see almost 90 holiday seasons, but like most family traditions, our quail dinners finally ended. Oh, we tried to relive the revelry on a couple of occasions but with no hunter in the family and a dozen frozen birds, it never quite lived up to the memory.
Flash forward a bunch of years.
Now our Christmas Eve tradition is gumbo after church services and I can say that the memories made with family and friends are just as warm as I remember growing up. We’ve always kept it simple with a Chicken and Sausage Gumbo, but this year I intend to change that and I owe it all to my friend Katie Gross.
Chef Katie cooks at Ruffino’s on the River here in Lafayette and has quickly made a name for herself. Just this past summer she cooked at the James Beard House along with Chef Peter Sclafani and created a highlight dish of duck leg boudin that wowed the crowd. This Florida girl has embraced Cajun and Creole with an innate curiosity for the traditional tastes and flavors of the cuisine.
On my quest for a quail of a dish, a few months ago I tasted her deconstructed quail gumbo that refueled my passion for quail and was the genesis of the idea for a new Christmas Eve tradition. Her boudin sausage-stuffed quail literally falls apart in the roux-infused broth to create a thick and ricey bowl of wild deliciousness. I experimented with different combinations and settled on the smoked boudin from Billy’s Boudin in Scott, Louisiana as just the right base for my stuffing mixture.
Quail is back on the Graham’s Acadiana table and should be on yours as well with this Smoked Boudin-Stuffed Quail Gumbo.
- 4 whole quail, cleaned and partially deboned
- 2 pounds smoked boudin or pork sausage
- 1 cup cooked Louisiana long-grain white rice, such as Supreme
- ½ cup finely diced yellow onion
- ½ cup diced green onion tops
- 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
- 2 tablespoons minced garlic
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
- 4 strips smoked bacon, chopped
- 2 cups diced yellow onion
- 2 cups diced green bell pepper
- 2 cups diced celery
- 2 tablespoons minced garlic
- ½ cup chopped parsley
- 12 cups chicken stock
- 1 ½ cups dark roux
- 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Dash of hot sauce
- 1 cup diced green onion tops
- Filé powder
- Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
- Rinse and dry the quail being careful not to tear the flesh.
- Remove the boudin from the casing and mix with the rice. Add the onions, green onion tops, parsley, garlic, and rosemary and mix to combine thoroughly. Stuff the boudin mixture into the cavity of the quail, packing it full. Bring the two legs of the quail together and secure by tying with kitchen twine or with strips of aluminum foil.
- Place the quail on a baking sheet and cover with aluminum foil. Bake for 30 minutes and uncover. Bake for another 10 minutes until the quail begin to brown on top. Remove the stuffed quail from the oven and remove the string. Keep warm until serving.
- In a large cast-iron pot over medium heat, add the bacon pieces. Cook until browned and remove to a platter for later use. Turn up the heat on the remaining bacon grease and once sizzling hot, add the onion, bell pepper, and celery. Sauté until the onions turn translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and parsley, and sauté until combined.
- Add the chicken stock and once it comes to a boil, add the roux. Reduce the heat to a simmer and season with cayenne pepper. Cover the pot and let cook for 1 hour.
- After 1 hour, lift the lid and skim the surface of any excess oil. Sample the gumbo and add salt and pepper to taste. Turn off the heat.
- For serving, place a stuffed quail in the center of a large bowl and ladle the gumbo around it. Garnish with diced green onion tops. Have filé powder and hot sauce on the table for adding extra seasoning. Serve with hot French bread.
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