“Oh, how can you drink that stuff?” ask the tourists and the unintiated. Yes, some grappa can be like drinking throat-stripping hi-test fuel oil, but a good grappa has a grab that tickles your palette and warms the innards. Cheap grappa may be nasty as a digestivio, but it's great for cooking as it has an inherent sweetness that plays nicely with a bit of spice.
The other night we were at Enoteca Wine Club in Umbertide, and they had baby chicken marinated in grappa on the menu. Patrick, one of the owners, and an outstanding sommelier, said he was surprised how much people enjoyed the dish. I was surprised too, because when I cook with grappa, I keep it a secret so I don’t have to go through the whole spiel of “I know you don’t like grappa but…”
So Patrick has given me the courage to come clean. I cook with grappa and I’m proud of it.
Go out and buy a bottle of cheap grappa. Also buy a bottle of good grappa so you can become better acquainted.
Drunken Quail with Garlic Chips on Crispy Saffron Rice
2 quail per person
Grappa, white wine
½ cup of aborio or bomba rice per person
1 ½ cups warm chicken or vegetable stock per person
2 large cloves of garlic per person
1 cup frozen peas (totally optional!)
Salt, fennel pollen if you can get it, smoked spicy paprika, saffron
Marinate the quail in grappa for 4-6 hours. Be generous; drown those birdies in the booze.
When it's roasting time, remove the birds from the grappa and discard the grappa. Using scissors, cut the bird open lay each one flat on a baking sheet. Generously salt the birds, and sprinkle them with fennel pollen. Roast at 350F/180C for 30 minutes.
Use an aborio or bomba variety of rice as these absorb moisture without coming apart like a basmati rice would do. Plan on approximately ½ cup of rice per person, and you’ll need about 1 1/2 cups of stock per ½ cup of rice. Use a vegetable or chicken stock.
The saffron is optional, but I love saffron so for me, its obligatory. Place a few strands of saffron in a small glass of white wine and let steep while you cook the rice.
Place the rice in a flat-bottomed pan, like a paella pan. I’m hesitant to use the word paella here because people make all different types of paellas and I don’t want to get into a what-is-an-authentic-paella-pissing match, ok? Let’s just call it crispy rice.
Much as you would with a risotto, add a glug of olive oil, turn on the heat to medium and toast the rice. That means roll it around in the oil until everything gets hot and toasty, but don’t brown the rice.Start adding the warm stock to the rice, enough stock to cover the pan and float the rice.
Keep adding stock and stirring the rice as the pan dries out. You want the rice to be about ¾’s cooked. (How to tell if the rice is nearly done: taste a few grains, they should be soft almost halfway through, with still a bit of hard crunch in the middle.) This should take about 10-12 minutes.
Add the white wine and saffron and the remaining stock to the pan, stir in the frozen peas if you are using them and put the pan in the oven on a rack above the quail. The liquid will evaporate and the rice will become brown and crispy on top.
The Garlic Chips
Peel 3 to 4 large cloves of garlic. Using a mandolin, thinly slice the garlic. (I use the 2.0mm setting on my mandolin.)
In a small pan, add enough olive oil to form a shallow pool to fry the garlic. They need to be able to float in the oil. Heat the oil to 350F/180C (use a thermometer when you fry things, its hard to do this by eye or feel). Add the garlic slices and fry for 1-2 minutes until they just start to turn golden. Remove the slices from the oil and drain. Turn the oil off, but don’t discard it because you are going to fry the garlic slices one more time right before serving.
Remove the quail from the oven and liberally dust with the spicy smoked paprika.
Turn the oven on to broil and broil the surface of the rice. Not too close to the broiler coils; but close enough to give the rice an extra crispy finish.
Reheat the oil to 350F/180C or even a bit hotter. Add the garlic chips and fry again until golden, about 30-45 seconds. Drain the chips and discard the oil.
Great! Now you’ve got one grappa recipe and a mostly full bottle of industrial strength grappa. Mushrooms to the rescue.
Fresh mushrooms, whatever kind you can find or that you like
Olive Oil, Butter
Shallot, Garlic, Lemon Juice, Salt and a lot of Pepper
Roughly chop the cleaned mushrooms. Finely chop the shallot. Place both in a large sauté pan (big enough so the mushrooms have room to dance around the pot), add a glug of olive oil, a sprinkle of salt, turn the heat onto medium high and cover the pot. When the mushrooms start to give up their moisture, add a good size glug of grappa to the pan, cover the pan and cook for 1-2 minutes, then uncover the pan and let all of the moisture evaporate.
When the pan is dry and sizzling, turn off the heat, swirl in a knob of butter, add a generous sprinkle of pepper and a good squeeze of lemon juice. Eat while they are mad hot!
The mushrooms are so quick, easy and delicious, you’ll use up that bottle of grappa in no time.
Now, as for the good grappa? Look for a golden color grappa, that means it’s been in oak and is a softer, warmer flavored grappa. Enjoy a small amount after dinner as a digestivo. Enjoy a large amount after dinner and you risk a magnificent headache in the morning. Always respect the grappa!