Quail Wrapped in Clay from The Fiery Cross
Dirty fighting is the only kind there is, Fraser had told him, panting, as they knelt at the stream and splashed cold water over sweating faces. Anything else is no but exhibition.
His head jerked on his neck and he blinked, coming back abruptly from the grate and crash of wooden swords to the dim warmth of the cabin. The platter was gone; Brianna was cursing softly under her breath at the sideboard, banging the hilt of his dirk against the blackened lumps of clay-baked quail to crack them open.
Watch your footing. Back, back — aye, now, come back at me! No, dinna reach so far…keep your guard up!
And the stinging whap! of the springy “blade” across arms and thighs and shoulders, the solid thunk of it driven bruising home between his ribs, sunk deep and breathless in his belly. Had it been cold steel, he would have been dead in minutes, cut to bleeding ribbons.
Don’t catch the blade on yours — throw it off. Beat, beat it off! Come at me, thrust! Keep it close, keep it close…aye, good…ha!
His elbow slipped and his head fell. He jerked upright, barely keeping hold of the sleeping child, and blinked, vision swimming with firelight.
Diana Gabaldon, The Fiery Cross (Chapter 87 – En Garde)
Poor, Poor Roger. Never mind the multitude of tortures he undergoes in less than a decade of 18th Century life, (even if it is just his Father in Law teaching him a few tricks), he’s stuck picking out bits of clay from beneath teeny-tiny wings just to get enough sustenance for his next day’s trials.
Or at least that’s what I used to imagine when it came to quail wrapped in clay and baked in the embers of a fire.
The reality was a pleasant surprise to both me and My Englishman.
I spatchcocked the quail, to get rid of some of the gnarlier bones (quails are bony little birdies), and to make the eating a little easier. Spatchcocking involves cutting out the spine with a sharp pair of kitchen shears, and then flattening the breast bones of the birds by pressing gently but firmly with your palm until you hear the bones break.
I trimmed the loose skin and fat off each bird, snipped off the wing tips, then folded it in half over a sprig of thyme and a curl of lemon peel and seasoned it liberally with salt and pepper.
I don’t know if Bree wrapped her quail in something before covering it in clay, but I decided it would be prudent for taste as well as teeth. I used blanched leek greens, which lent another fabulous layer of flavour to the finished dish. Banana leaves, corn husks, big leaves of kale or chard, or pieces of parchment would also work very well.
On a bone-dry counter (otherwise it quickly turns to mud), I rolled out a lump of LEAD-FREE clay to a thickness of about 1/4″ and sandwiched the bird between 2 layers of leek. Then, just like pottery class, I used my hands to cover the bird with the clay. I brushed it with a little water to join the seams, and patched up holes as required.
The key to success is to squeeze and mold as much air out of the clay packages as you can. Air pockets cause explosions in the fire…
I built a fire out of this year’s winter windstorm debris in the backyard and, once I had a good bed of coals, tucked the clay wrapped quail into the embers and away from direct flame.
If outdoor burning is banned in your area, you could fire up a pile of briquettes in a BBQ instead.
You can see that I had one minor explosion — squeeze out those air pockets! — but the leek saved it from total disaster…in fact, the slightly charred skin and smoky meat was delicious. As was the one that made it through the fire still whole, although it was more steamed than roasted. The clay wrap results in a tender, moist and flavoured with whatever you wrap and stuff it with.
Suddenly, I don’t feel quite so sorry for Poor, Poor Roger anymore.