Achiote is a seed from certain trees indigenous to South and Central America and the West Indies. It is also known as annatto seed. The seeds impart a pungent flavor but not a spicy one and they cause a dramatic color transformation that will lend a brilliant orangey red cast to the quail.
1. Heat the 1 cup virgin olive oil in a small saucepan until quite warm. Stir in the achiote seeds and remove from the heat. Allow to cool.
2. Put the raw quail in a medium-large bowl and season with salt and pepper. When the olive oil is cool, pour it through a fine strainer and put the seeds in a cheesecloth. Tie the cloth securely shut and add it to the oil. Now pour the oil over the quail and add the seed bag to the bowl. Allow quail to marinate between 1 and 3 hours, refrigerated.
3. Fire up the grill or broiler to high heat.
4. Make the vinaigrette: Mix together half of the poblano and half the papaya with the extra virgin olive oil and Champagne vinegar. Set aside.
5. Soak 16 small, wooden skewers in water (this prevents them from burning up). Now thread two skewers crosswise in an X through each quail and lay birds in a flat pan. Discard the marinade.
6. Grill the quails, turning them from time to time. They should be crisp and juicy. Remove them to a warm platter when they are done.
7. Put the prepared greens in a bowl and toss with enough vinaigrette to barely coat them. Mound the greens on 4 plates. Arrange the quail attractively in front of the greens. Drizzle any collected drippings the quail may have rendered onto the plates. Garnish the plates with the remaining diced papaya and poblano chile. Serve.
Feast of Sunlight
by Norman Van Aken
The Harvard Common Press
Reprinted by permission.
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