Quail has a certain exoticism, evoking candlelit banquets, heavy with game and pork and red wine. A wintery treat. They’re such pretty birds: related to the pheasant and originating from the east (most modern breeds come from the Japanese strain), they are good flyers and are known to emigrate long distances - England to Africa is not unthinkable for a cold wild quail.
Given their capacity for flight, it’s really important to consider your quail farmer carefully. It has become a personal mission to seek out an enlightened producer and after a long search I’ve found a lovely quail farm in Norfolk which is very encouraging – I do so enjoy this delicately flavoured bird.
Roast quail makes a wonderful visual impact on a table. A big plate of them looks fantastic for a special meal – you need 1-2 birds per person. They’re great for a week-day supper too: very quick to cook, lean, with a good proportion of meat to bone. For a simple roast, brown briefly in butter (I think this really helps with flavour), push some nice fruity bits into the cavity – prunes or plums, apples, apricots or orange quarters – then wrap in pancetta or bacon, and bake in the oven at 200ºC for 15-20 minutes.
Anna Del Conte, one of my favourite writers on Italian food, remembers a meal of roast quail basted in Balsamic vinegar that she enjoyed in Reggio Emilia. The birds were sautéed and then put in a baking tray with a small amount of stock. During the fifteen minute roasting that followed they were basted twice with the stock and a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar. The birds were then removed, and the pan was de-glazed, with a small amount of butter mixed in, to make a sauce. Served finally with pureed celeriac and potato. Delicious.
This is an adapted Nigel Slater recipe – simple and very easy.
- Quail, 1-2 per person
- Olive oil
- Pancetta or fat bacon in the piece, about 200g
- Chopped celery – a stalk per person
- A glass or two of sweet wine
Pre-heat oven to 220ºC. Rub birds with salt, pepper and olive oil. Dice pancetta or bacon and fry gently in a large casserole dish (add oil if necessary). When sizzling, add quails to the pot, turning up heat to colour each side. Add celery to pan, pour in wine and bring to boil. Cover with lid and put in oven. Cook for approximately 25 minutes or until seeping juices are clear. Remove from oven but keep in pan to rest for fifteen minutes before serving.