Sunday, July 20, 2014

Deep-fried Quail

Though I've been cooking for 50 years now, it's only in the last 12 months that I have become truly comfortable with deep-frying. Before then I had done it several times (but not a lot) and the results were pretty good, but I never felt truly comfortable and happy working with all that bubbling hot oil. It was just a bit scary, and to my mind cooking shouldn't be scary.

All that changed when I started deep-frying in a wok, and that's because I started cooking Luke Nguyen's Spicy Deep-Fried Quail the way he suggests, in a wok. Much easier.

Deep-fried spicy quail, cooked in a wok.

And so while my garden is almost asleep in this, the coldest winter we've had in Sydney for several years, I'm busy in the kitchen keeping our hard-working artist, Pammy, well-fed while she produces 31 paintings in 31 days for an upcoming group exhibition called – you guessed it – '31 Days'.

For overseas readers, if you are thinking "who is Luke Nguyen?" he is a Sydney restaurateur and TV presenter whose travel and food shows are well worth seeing, especially those celebrating the food of Vietnam and South-East Asia. What follows is his recipe, in words and photos, as cooked by me.

First, cut out the backbone of 6 quail. (These little birds are
most often bought in a 'tray' of 6 birds here in Sydney. One tray
costs $15 in Marrickville, but it might cost more elsewhere.)
Then place them in the marinade for a few hours. Just before
deep-frying, take the quails out of the marinade and pat-dry
with paper towels, as pictured here.
Here's the marinade recipe.

1 teaspoon dark soy sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon five spice powder
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
2 star anise, crushed (I do it in a mortar & pestle)
1 1/2 teaspoons Shaoxing (Chinese) cooking wine
125 ml water

The Shaoxing cooking wine is readily available in any Asian food store. It's cheap, too. A 750ml bottle is just $1.30 here in Marrickville.

Next, get that oil in the wok up to the right temperature before adding the quail!

I use a temperature gauge (available at cooking supply stores.)
This comes with a long 'probe' that sits in the oil, plus a little
clip that holds onto the side of the pot. There's even a little sliding
pointer that you can move around to the desired temperature
setting. In this case that's 180°C.

For this recipe I use 1.5 litres of Rice Bran
Oil. I prefer this oil as it is one of the few oils
available which is free of unhealthy Trans fats.

I won't bang on too much about Trans fats here,
but they are actually banned in some European
countries, but here in Australia it is quite hard to
find oils which are completely free of them. Have
a look at the labels on all the common cooking
oils next time you're at the supermarket, and
you might be surprised how many have Trans
fats listed. Rice Bran oil is free of them.
What's so bad about Trans fats? Here's a link.
OK, so we've got our ideologically sound oil up to 180°C, next step is to add three of your 6 quail. Woo-hoo! Action!

This is where I  conquered my fear of deep-frying. It looks very
spectacular but is quite stable. Enjoyable in fact. Let the quails
deep-fry for 5 minutes exactly.
As soon as you add the quails you'll notice that the temperature
of the oil drops from 180  down to about 160. Don't be tempted
to turn up the gas flame (or the heat) to compensate. It's okay!
At the end of 5 minutes, scoop out the quails onto paper towels,
then wait a minute or so and the oil will be back to 180°C,
ready for the second batch of quails to be added to the oil.

The quails come out looking lovely. Once the second batch is
cooked, cut each quail into four pieces (two drumsticks plus
the body of the bird cut in two down the breastbone. A Chinese
cleaver does it so easy, but any big knife will do the trick.

Well before you started cooking, of course you were so well
organised that you made the lemon pepper dipping sauce,
whose Vietnamese name is Muoi Tieu Chanh, says Luke. 

(But I suspect there's a few accents on various letters
in that name, so forgive me for not knowing them.)
To make the dipping sauce, combine 2 tablespoons (homegrown) lemon juice with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon fine white pepper. Stir to combine (the pepper can clump up a bit, so stir very well to make sure it is all truly combined). And no, you cannot use black pepper. It has to be white pepper!

Finally, serve the quails on a bed of salad,
with the dipping sauce on the side.

Luke suggests a salad of tomato, Lebanese cucumber and water cress, but I've replaced the water cress with crispy lettuce tossed with (home-grown) wild rocket. (And I'll be doing a blog on that wild rocket soon. Such a good vegie garden plant!).

And so it's thanks to Luke Nguyen and his recipe that I now feel not only confident about deep-frying but actually quite interested in doing a bit more from now on. When you deep-fry correctly, with the oil at the right temperature, the results are not at all oily. The meat is instantly sealed and crispy on the outside, juicy on the inside. All the oil stays in the wok and the result is very, very delicious.


Padaek said...

Mamma mia! Great post Jamie. The fried quails look golden delicious, and I'm sure that dipping sauce and bed of salad tastes exceptionally fine because they have your lovely home-grown produce. Love the photos, esp. of the gauge, and the last pic of course. :)

Sue O said...

The quail sounds delicious but sad too. Quail are such adorable little birds.. Don't think I have ever seen them in a market here in the US.