Quail with Cornbread Stuffing

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From Around the Southern Table by Sarah Belk

Three Southern classics are in this recipe: bacon, pecans, and cornbread. They complement the gentle flavor of the quail, which is a good dinner-party choice since it can be stuffed a day in advance. I like to serve this in autumn, and I usually begin the meal with Sweet Potato Soup (omit the pine nut butter), or Jerusalem Artichoke Soup.

Ingredients
4 tablespoons unsalted butter (or less, if using a nonstick skillet)
2 medium yellow onions, finely chopped
1 stalk celery, finely chopped
4 cups crumbled, day-old cornbread
1 cup finely chopped pecans
1/4 to 1/2 cup chicken broth
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
12 quail, partially boned (have the butcher bone them for you), thawed if frozen
12 strips of lean bacon

Instructions
1. Preheat oven to 475 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. Melt two tablespoons of the butter in a large, heavy saucepan or skillet. Add the onions and celery. Cook over low heat until translucent and soft, about 10 minutes. Stir frequently to prevent the onions from browning.

3. Add the cornbread, pecans, and remaining 2 tablespoons of butter. Increase heat and continue cooking for about 2 minutes or until the additional butter has melted and all ingredients are well mixed. Remove from heat and add just enough chicken broth to make a mixture that is moist but not soggy or mushy. Add more liquid if stuffing seems too dry. Season well with salt and pepper to taste. Let cool completely.

4. Working with 1 quail at a time, place the quail breast-side-up on a work surface. Season inside and out with salt and pepper. Using a small spoon, fill the cavity at the tail end with about 2 tablespoons of the stuffing. Truss or use small metal skewers or sturdy wooden toothpicks to secure both openings of the cavity. (Secure tightly to prevent stuffing from spilling out.) Spoon leftover stuffing into a shallow buttered ovenproof dish.

5. Wrap 1 piece of bacon around each quail, covering as much of the surface of the breast as possible to prevent drying out during roasting.

6. Place quail breast-side-up in a buttered baking dish large enough to hold quail snugly. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook for 30 to 35  minutes or until juices run clear, not pink, when pierced at the thickest part and stuffing inside the bird registers at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Place the baking dish of leftover stuffing in the oven during the last 15 minutes of cooking.

7. To serve, spoon the hot leftover stuffing in the center of a large serving platter. Remove toothpicks and strings from quail. Arrange the birds attractively around stuffing. Serve hot.

Serves 4 to 6.

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