The Food Almanac: Wednesday, October 31, 2012
National Quail Day, All Hallows' Eve, and Dishes à la Souvaroff
All Hallows' Eve, the night before All Saints' Day. An old, old holiday that dates back to the pagan Celts, perhaps before the time of Christ. The food connections now mostly involve candy, but. . .
The largest group of current restaurant customers are from the first generation never really forced to grow up — the Baby Boomers. We didn't get over Halloween, and so many of us go out in search of some pleasure to replace the bag of candy we still, down deep inside, feel should be coming our way today. That puts us in restaurants. Many restaurants have special menus, decorations, and other fun. It's an interesting and unique night for dining out.
Today allegedly is National Candy Apple Day. But they tell kids not to eat candy apples they find in their trick-or-treat bags. Just as well. What a perverse thing to do to the perfection that is an apple.
One a more interesting note, today is National Quail Day. Quail is a dark-meat bird, easily raised on farms, and not particularly expensive. The birds are so little and cute and have such a gourmet reputation that most chefs get pretentious in preparing them — not always to good effect. But the pinnacle of quail cookery is simple: debone the bodies, butterfly them, season them well, and just grill them over an open fire.
But what we usually get instead is quail stuffed with something. This allows the quail to look like it actually has a substantial enough torso that perhaps a restaurant can get away with serving just one quail as an entree. But one quail is nothing but an appetizer, no matter what you do to it. Especially since the food value of eating a quail may be exceeded by the amount of work required to eat it.
The stuffing can be good, but not usually. That's because it usually involves seafood. I may be off your beam on this, but I believe that seafood and poultry do not go together well. The effect is particularly distressing in the case of a seafood-stuffed quail, because there's not enough of either seafood or quail to make a statement without the other getting in the way.
Quail, Calif., is in the southern Central Valley, sixteen miles south of Tulare, with the Sierra Nevada Mountains visible in the east. It's surrounded by vast acreages of farmland, raising a tremendous percentage of the nation's vegetables. Quail began as a station on the Southern Pacific Railroad. It's now a packing and shipping point on State Highway 99. The place is named for the California quail, the state bird, with its crest of drooping feathers suspended from the top of its head. They occur in the area in large numbers. If the birds are served in any restaurants, you'll have to drive at least two miles south to Pixley to get them. Carmen, Perez Taqueria, and El Serape are all there, along with numerous other Hispanic eateries.
Souvaroff, adj., French — A style of preparing game birds in which the birds are stuffed with foie gras and truffles, browned in butter, then baked until finished. The sauce is a light demi-glace with truffles and Madeira. It's named after a young member of the Russian (Crimean, to be exact) aristocracy in the late 1800s. As was very popular in those tight circles, he dined around Paris enough that this dish was named for him. The best bird à la Souvaroff is pheasant, whose richness of flavor is heightened by the foie gras, which also helps to keep the notoriously dry bird moist.
Deft Dining Rule #10
When entertaining visitors from out of town who have never or rarely been to your city, always take them to a restaurant with which you're familiar. Better still, to a restaurant where you are known. It will be a better evening than one even in a much better restaurant about which you know nothing.
The Old Kitchen Sage Sez
The most essential use for expensive kitchen shears will not be revealed until the first time you try to butterfly quail.
Food in Science
Carl Von Voit was born on this date in 1831. His life work was determining how the body uses food, and how certain foods have particular effects on the metabolism. He would have been the first to be able to write nutritional analyses on the sides of food packages.
Music to Eat Wherever You Want By
This is the birthday (1944) of Texas writer, musician, comedian, and counterculture hero Kinky Friedman. He had a hit in the early 1970s with "We Reserve the Right to Refuse Service to You." It begins with his exclusion from a lunch counter, and gets increasingly irreverent and political. It has elements of a protest song, but with humor.
Beverages in War (Sounds Like)
Today in 1917 the Battle of Beersheba was fought in what is now Israel, but then was part of the Ottoman Empire. A brigade of Australian horsemen conducted what is considered the last successful cavalry charge in world warfare history against the Ottomans, in the middle of World War I.
The comedy actor John Candy was born today in 1950 . . . The rap singer Vanilla Ice (who has gone back to his great real name, Rob Van Winkle) began life in 1968 on this date . . . Actress and blues singer Ethel Waters was born today in 1896 . . . American balloonist Charles LeRoux was stirred up into life today in 1856.
Words to Eat By
"A pasty costly-made,
Where quail and pigeon, lark and leveret lay,
Like fossils of the rock, with golden yolks
Imbedded and injellied." — Alfred, Lord Tennyson.
Words to Drink By
"If all be true that I do think,
There are five reasons we should drink;
Good wine —a friend—or being dry —
Or lest we should be by and by —
Or any other reason why." — John Sirmond, French writer of the 1600s.