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Most restaurants, high or low end, have a fryer in the kitchen. Some $$$$ restaurants deep fry truffle-stuffed poussin, pommé frites, chanterelle arancini, or boned quail with chili-infused honey in duck fat. In a mid-range place, without the white tablecloth and hovering waiter, your order of fried chicken, chili fries, Buffalo wings, or taquitos is crisped in vats of FryMax. In an American-Chinese restaurant kitchen, cream cheese wontons, egg rolls, or General Tso’s chicken bubble in gallons of peanut, canola, or soy oil. According to Water Industry, a restaurant can produce 200-300 pounds of used grease every week.
Restaurant grease is bought and sold on the commodities market along with pork bellies, soybeans, and other agricultural crops. The trading price goes up and down, depending on the price of crude oil. Refineries, following government clean-fuel mandates, use yellow grease in the production of biofuels. Like the trash industry, the grease business has been linked to shady characters with cut-throat practices. When the price of yellow grease spikes, stories circulate about the fierce competition and “grease toughs tossing rival grease collectors into grease receptacles, closing the lid and threatening to shoot.”
The restaurants I worked for in Los Angeles and Seattle stored their used grease in fifty-gallon drums kept in the alley beside the dumpster. The restaurants contracted with a licensed waste company that picked up the yellow grease regularly and paid the restaurant market price for each gallon or pound collected. Specially equipped trucks rolled along alleyways during the day, transfering the grease into huge vats, then rolled on to a refinery site. But after sundown, grease thieves trolled the dark alleys in unmarked vans, equipped with a hose and a souped-up vacuum cleaner engine, siphoning off the yellow sludge, then selling it on the black market.
So, when the price of crude oil jumped, I could count on wrangling grease. It usually went like this:
Me to prep guy, “You’re tracking grease into the kitchen” or words to that effect.
Prep guy to me, “It’s not my fault. Grease guy didn’t pick up last night and the drums are spilling over” or words to that effect.
Me on the kitchen phone to grease guy, “I’m so sorry but our grease drums are full. Would you mind stopping by and emptying them?” or words to that effect.
Grease guy to me, “Unfortunately, the last three times we stopped, those rascally grease-thieves had already emptied the drums. We consider that a waste of our time and resources.”
Anyways, the price of yellow grease has risen this year, so across the country kitchen managers are saddling up, getting ready to outwit those grease bandits. Maybe a grease caper starring Tony Sporano or a reality show following the grease trail along the back alleys of L.A. is on the horizon. After all, “Grease is the word.”
Boned quail with chili-infused honey
12-18 boned quail, wings removed
- 2 tablespoons fresh sage, roughly chopped
- 2 tablespoons fresh flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
- 2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, roughly chopped
- 2 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest
- 1½ tablespoons chipotle chile powder
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 serrano chiles, seeded and finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 1 cup olive oil
Marinate quail in large glass or stainless steel bowl at room temperature for at least hour or overnight in the refrigerator. Mix and turn quail occasionally so they marinate evenly.
- 4 dried red New Mexico or Anaheim chiles—stemmed, seeded and broken into small pieces
- 1 cup water
- ½ cup honey
- Pinch kosher salt
In a small saucepan over high heat, combine the chiles and water. Bring to a boil and cook for 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and let stand for 10 minutes. Transfer to a blender, add the honey and salt, and purée until smooth.
Pour the red chile honey through a fine-mesh sieve to remove the chile skins. Discard the skins and reserve the glaze. Makes 1 cup.
Preheat the oven to 350°.
Take quail out of the marinade, dry thoroughly, and bring to room temperature. Deep fry quail in hot oil in small batches until brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Drain on paper towels.
Transfer to a shallow roasting pan and, using half of the chili-infused honey, brush both sides of each quail. Roast the quail in the oven, uncovered, until cooked through, 5-8 more minutes. Remove from heat and let rest for 10 minutes before serving with remaining glaze.