This dish may sound complicated, but each component is very simple to make, and most can be made ahead of time.
Preheat oven to 400°. Wash quail and pat dry. Season quail with salt and pepper; stuff each with a piece of bacon. Add canola oil to a pan on medium-high heat and sear quail on breast side, pressing occasionally with spatula to ensure even cooking, until browned, about 3 minutes. Turn quail and cook on other side until golden, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a sheet pan and roast 3 minutes, or until meat at thigh bone is pale pink. Remove from oven and refrigerate, covered, until ready to use.
Soak beans overnight in water. Drain and place beans in a pot with 3 cups chicken stock and ham. Simmer, covered, about 1 hour, or until tender, adding up to 2 cups of additional stock if necessary.
While the beans are cooking, make the Bean Vinaigrette.
Whisk together lemon, shallot, salt, and pepper. Add oil in a steady stream, whisking constantly, until ingredients are well combined. Set aside.
When the beans are tender, drain any residual stock, remove ham, and place the beans, while still warm, into the vinaigrette. Refrigerate, uncovered. If making a day ahead, cover the beans as soon as they are fully cooled.
In a medium pot, add ¾ cup polenta or cornmeal, milk, heavy cream, cayenne, and salt over medium-high heat. Whisk until blended, making sure to scrape bottom of the pot to incorporate polenta or cornmeal fully. Reduce heat to medium and simmer 25 to 30 minutes, stirring constantly. Adjust seasoning, if needed, by adding salt and cayenne. Pour into a 9x13-inch sheet pan lined with plastic wrap; refrigerate. When cool, cut into circles (4 inches in diameter) or triangles; set aside, or wrap in foil and refrigerate overnight.
- ¼ cup polenta or yellow cornmeal
- ½ cup oil, divided
- 3 cups mixed greens
- ¼ pound thinly sliced ham, cut lengthwise into thin strips
Dredge cakes in polenta or cornmeal. Add ¼ cup oil to a skillet over medium heat and saute about 5 minutes, or until golden. Turn and cook 2 minutes longer. Remove each cake and place it in the center of a serving plate. Toss mixed greens with ham strips. Divide among individual plates, placing a small pile of greens in the middle of each cake. Heat the remaining ¼ cup oil in a large saute pan and place quail, breast side down, in the pan. Saute 2 minutes over medium heat. Turn and saute 1 minute longer, until warmed through. Transfer sauteed quail to plates, placing each on the greens. Spoon Bean Vinaigrette around each quail.