The bright sunlight belligerently pushed its way through my bedroom shades and straight into my still-sleepy eyes. I struggled to open them. Looking at the clock, I realized it was 8:30 AM, and I was late. I quickly got up, threw on my pants and a jacket, texted my still-sleeping wife that I was running out, and bolted out the door in a hurried frenzy to find… quail eggs.
Yes, quail eggs.
Today I would be making Potato Salad with Truffle and Pickled Quail Egg from the Eleven Madison Park: The Next Chapter Cookbook. I had everything I needed, including the truffle, but I didn’t yet have the quail eggs. I knew of five stores within walking distance that might have them, but I didn’t have a lot of time. We needed to have my kids ready for a classmate’s birthday party in an hour. So, I was on a mission with little time to spare.
The two closest options were specialty grocers in my Brooklyn neighborhood. Each was only about 5 minutes away, but, alas, neither had the eggs in stock. My next stop would be the much-lauded Sahadi’s on Atlantic Avenue. If they didn’t have them, then I would have to trek further out to one, or possibly two, of Brooklyn’s finest butchers: Staubitz and/or Paisano’s. The butchers were an additional 20 minute walk each way, so I was really hoping Sahaidi’s had them.
If this was a couple years ago, I would say there was no way Sahadi’s would pull through. Back then, it was more of a strictly middle eastern specialty store. However, in recent years it has taken over more space, and turned into a more broadly international emporium along the lines of Kalustyan’s in Manhattan. I had never been a huge fan of Sahadi’s, not only because it lacked the wide selection of Kalustyan’s, but also because it is perennially jam-packed. The rivalry was my own personal subway series of sorts, and even though I’m now a Brooklynite and should have been rooting for my borough, I supported Kalustyan’s all the way. It has always had any obscure ingredient I’ve ever needed, from Aji Armarillo to Xantham Gum.
Over the past years, however, Sahadi’s has gotten much better. And this fact was on full display this morning, as they had one single box of quail eggs left. One. Single. Box. I got my eggs with plenty of time to spare, and, in fact, was even able to stop at Starbucks to pick up coffee for my caffeine addict wife. Yes, I know, I’m such a good husband.
Back at home, I had my truffle waiting for me. There are a few purveyors who sell good quality truffles while in season. Plantin, Urbani, Sabatino’s — these are some of the best. But, I’ve actually found that during truffle season, you can find good deals at Fresh Direct, who sources from some of these very same purveyors, but for some reason often offers their truffles at a substantial discount. I had received my truffle the previous evening, and my only concern was if the one-ounce specimen would be enough. After all, this recipe had several components that called for copious amounts of the expensive tuber.
Once my wife took the kids to their birthday party, I had time to focus on the tasks at hand. Most of the subrecipes were straightforward, but the dish required so much fresh truffle, that it would have cost several hundred dollars to make at home, Therefore, I spent quite some time figuring out how far I could go with cutting the subrecipes to smaller portions. Could I cut them down by 75%? Even more? Two of the sauces required blending, so I knew I couldn’t cut too much, or there wouldn’t be a critical mass to get the blender going. Others subrecipes, such as the potato salad and the onion relish, I realized, could be cut down to about 15% of their full scale. Still concerned about the amount of truffle, I even debated the use of truffle oil in one of the sauces. However, I really didn’t want to cloud the pure taste of fresh truffle with that of the artificially laced oil. Ultimately, I decided to go the strictly fresh route.
After making both sauces, I realized they were nearly identical. Both were essentially takes on vichyssoise, with one being smoked and the other using fresh truffle. That redundancy was slightly annoying, but what really got under my skin was the fact that I probably had enough sauce for 30 or so servings. I was making this for two! What a waste.
While my sauces cooked, I started preparing the quail eggs. I hadn’t worked with quail eggs in years and suddenly remembered why: they are a major pain in the ass. I used a pairing knife to carefully take the top off of each egg shell, and removed the delicate yolks. A couple of eggs ended up breaking during the process, but not as many as I expected. The real problem was that it was hard to get all of the white completely separated from the yolk. I did the best I could, then put the yolks in the pickling solution and set them in the fridge for a few hours to do their thing.
Next up was the potato salad and confit. These were easy enough to make, although I was worried that my potatoes were a bit larger than the ones specified in the recipe. I mean, 5/8 of an inch? Can they be any more specific?
With all these steps out of the way, I only had the onion relish left to make. It was simple enough, and I was able to it down by 75% and still have more than enough for two servings.
Now, here came the real tricky part: plating. The recipe calls for using a one-inch ring mold, but I felt that was too small. After all, this isn’t an amuse bouche. So, I filled a 1.5-inch ring mold with a couple tablespoons of the potato salad and flattened it into a disk, I then topped it with the onion relish. After removing the ring mold and placing the confit potato on top of the “salad”, it was looking good…..until I put the pickled quail egg yolk on top. There wasn’t quite enough room for both the potato and the yolk, and, consequently, the egg kept wanting to slide off the mixture and onto the plate. I tried to keep it on the best I could, and continued to cover the concoction with my two sauces.
I now had to work quickly to keep not just the yolk, but the sauces from running all over the place. Lesson learned: sauce this dish sparingly. I quickly covered the dish with sliced potatoes and truffles, which were tossed with my favorite olive oil of the moment, a subtle, buttery Greek elixir from Oliviers & Co. If you’re not familiar with Oliviers & Co., it’s a french-based olive oil boutique that sources all of its oils from whichever small producers have great products that particular vintage. Their offerings change each year, and you’re able to taste everything before you buy. It’s one of my favorite stores, as a great finishing oil can really help pull a dish together.
At the end of the day, I ended up plating this dish twice. And, while it was delicious, I wasn’t happy with the presentation. I am optimistic, however, that I can pull it off with more practice. I would really like to get it down, because this is an ideal dish to serve at a dinner party: it tastes good, looks great (potentially), and everything can be made well ahead of time.
And, here’s a look at the finished dish: