Chicago [Quail and Fennel Sausage Braised with Grapes]

Flying to Chicago soon.

Gonna eat Michelin stars and Mexican food and Hot Doug’s. Gonna see the skyscrapers and the fish in the aquarium. Gonna boat around the canals.

Gonna miss Thanksgiving. Would have cooked game birds if I were home.

Quail and Fennel Sausage Braised with Grapes
*from the Zuni Cafe Cookbook by Judy Rodgers

4 whole quail (6 oz. each) or 4 dressed quail (4 oz. each)
Salt
6 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
few pinches of fennel seeds, barely crushed
2 pounds stemmed, small, red or black grapes (5 to 6 cups), at least two-thirds of which are seedless varieties
balsamic or red wine vinegar, as needed
4 fresh sausages (3 to 4 ounces each), preferably fennel sausage

For the best flavor, season the quail 12 to 24 hours in advance.

If using whole quail, first cut off the feet at the knee joint and the head at the base of the neck. Season the quail evenly all over with salt, cover loosely, and refrigerate for 12 to 24 hours.

Warm about ¼ cup of the olive oil with the fennel seeds in a 3-quart sauté pan over medium heat. Add the grapes. Stir regularly as the grapes sizzle and release their fruity aroma, until the skins begin to split and the grapes yield their juice. Cook uncovered, stirring occasionally until the grape sauce has a little body, 20 to 30 minutes. You should have about 2 cups. Taste. If the grapes are quite sweet, add a pinch of salt and/or a dribble of vinegar.

Warm about 2 tablespoons olive oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat. Wipe the quail and sausages dry, then place in the pan. They should sizzle on contact. Brown the quail and sausages evenly, 3 to 4 minutes on each side. Reduce the heat, tilt the pan, trapping the quail and sausages behind tongs or a strainer, and pour off the excess fat. Add the grapes. They will seethe regally as they bubble up around the quail and sausages—a moment to look forward to when making this dish. Cover and cook over medium-low heat until firm, like a ripe peach, another 12 minutes or so, turning the quail and sausages a few times to ensure even cooking. Uncover and simmer to reduce the sauce to a rich, jammy consistency. Taste and correct with salt or vinegar.

Serve immediately with a grain pilaf or bread.

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