Quail on Toast


When we finally shuffle off this mortal coil, you would hope, at the very least, to go out with a certain degree of style and grace and dignity, wouldn't you? I know I would. In fact, one of the over-riding factors for the due diligence of my underwear drawer first thing in the morning, is to make sure that everything is clean, present and correct before I stride off for my strides. Because once upon a time; I went to work wearing a pair of my wife's knickers. Had I been knocked down by a bus or choked on a chicken bone that day, the later discovery of this innocent mistake and subsequent ignominy would have been too much for my family and friends to bear. OK, I am sure that there would have been couple of arched eyebrows and suspicious sideways glances at my funeral but I am also sure that the pall of embarrassment would have hung heavily over proceedings; especially for my father. I can picture him now in the chapel, on his knees, weeping and sobbing under his breath:

"Not my boy, not my boy....... not in Holly's shreddies."

I learnt a valuable lesson that day. Where death is concerned, we have no control over our ultimate destiny; but at least on a daily basis, we can make sure that we are wearing the right pants for the occasion.

Let's consider for a moment then, the fate of the shy and retiring quail. This chirruping creature is smallest of the game birds readily available for consumption at this time of year, and if cooked well, quail is a sweet, tender and succulent treat to enjoy. But in comparison to its older cousins, once plucked and eviscerated, its tiny frame does suffer the shame of impropriety somewhat. When trussed neatly and ready to be cooked whole, pheasant, duck, partridges, woodcock and pigeons can speed happily towards their final destination of a baking hot oven, safe in the knowledge that at least their end had some sense of decorum. Quails on the other hand, due to their diminutive size, often suffer the indignity of having to lie in a roasting tin, spread-eagled, for all the world to see. The spitting, hot fat of a frying pan does it no favours either; as the muscles fibres shrink and contract, a quail’s legs will tend to arch upwards, in some gross akimbo fashion. The effect, to coin a friend's phrase, is quite 'gynaecological' and is not really a befitting spectacle for the kitchen table. Should feathered mourners ever magically appear, to pay their last respects around the table cloth, resplendent in tiny black ties and little hats with organza; their grieving, dull eyes fixed upon the plate would certainly be countered by their flushed, pink cheeks.

Unlike man and woman, who is privy to free will, causation and effect and the choice to wear whatever underwear they like; none of this exists for the poor, humble quail. Their lives are pre-determined. No matter what they do, once captured and cooked, they will always bare a cross; they will always end up with their bum in the air. With no style, no grace, and definitely no dignity.

I don't often spend my time considering the philosophical dilemmas of quails you know, this just all entered my head when I was rustling up a lovely dish from Claudia Roden's The Food of Spain the other evening; namely Quail with caramelised onion and brandy. This Catalonian recipe is extremely straight forward and simple and I urge you to try it but I also urge that you try this little twist I added.

The inspiration for the twist came from a recent visit to Moo Grill, tucked neatly in between Liverpool Street and Aldgate. It was London Mallorca Week, a gastronomical celebration of all things Mallorcan and Rachel McCormack was hosting a wine tasting there. The wines were very good and I gravitated towards a previously unknown grape, the indigenous, dense and berry flavoured Callet, with great aplomb. I then got chatting to an attractive lady called Jenny (I think it was Jenny) from a company called Ametlla who, after some chit chat, pressed a package into my hands and whispered seductively into my ears, “Try my nuts.” The nuts in question were fine, Mallorcan almonds, which had been crushed with various herbs and spices to form a readymade picada, of which there were three varieties.

Being the food adventurer that I am, I accepted them without question and then one night this week, after musing over the metaphysical nature of quails, I decided to use Ametlla No 1, the tomato based one, to make an accompanying sauce.  And it was pretty damn special actually. Given the already rich textures of Madam Roden’s dish, with gently braised quail, squat gregariously atop soft, melting, toffee onions; the Ametlla sauce really ramped up the comfort factor. It was fragrant, fruity and complimented the delicate meat of the quail without overpowering.

That this was all to be served up on toast. Plain ol’ toast, like you would with beans, eggs and pilchards, seemed at first to be the last humiliation for this noble bird; a final injustice. But of course, the toast was the best element, which grew soggy under the weight, soaking up all the juice and the nutty sauce; becoming perfect for mopping the plate with a fork. Delicious.

So in the end, for the quail, it wasn’t such a bad ending after all.

Quail with Caramelized Onions and Brandy 
serves 2 as a main course, 4 as a starter

4 quails

5 tablespoons olive oil

2 large onions, peeled, halved and sliced

salt and pepper

125ml brandy, or to taste

4 large slices of firm white bread, toasted or fried

Additional sauce

2 tablespoon Ametlla No 1

4 tablespoon water 

2 tomatoes, skinned, seeded and diced

1 tablespoon olive oil


Pull off any remaining feathers or singe them off over a flame, then rinse the quails and pat them dry with kitchen paper. Heat the oil in a wide, heavy frying pan or casserole and put in the onions. Cover and cook slowly over a very low heat for about 30 minutes until they are soft and beginning to colour, stirring often.

Push the onions to one side, put the quails into the pan and season with salt and pepper. Turn up the heat to medium. Keep turning the quails to brown them all over - around 7 or 8 minutes - and stir the onions so that they brown evenly. Add the brandy and cook, covered, over a low heat for 25 to 30 minutes until the onions are caramelized and the quails are done. Pulle the leg of one of the quails - if it moves easily they are cooked. They should still be a little pink. Serve them on toasted or fried sliced bread.

For the sauce, gently fry the tomato in olive oil in a small pan. In a glass, mix the Ametlla and water together and then add to the pan, mix together to emulsify and keep warm before use. Drizzle liberally over the quail and plate.

Ametlla can be found and purchased at Bar Tozino at Maltby Street and soon on Edeli.


Quail with Caramelized Onions and Brandy (and Ametlla No1)


Unknown said…
Very seductive. Beautiful recipe. Wonderful thoughts of you in your wife's knickers. Nice.
Miss Whiplash said…
Gynaecological or not, I like a nice bit o'quail...
They're a bit labour intensive to bone and whatnot, though.
Would I be foolish to ask why re the pants?
Part of me feels like it would be remiss not to.
Food Urchin said…
Belleau Kitchen - you are welcome, but keep them thoughts to yourself, OK?

Miss Whiplash - simple, infiltration, Mrs FU knickers found their way into my drawer and I am quite bleary in the morning, to be honest they were very plain and hardly lacy at all, hardly......
Unknown said…
Loving the knicker story. Am interested in your quails too - have always had an aversion to cooking 'little' birds - had a bad experience in France seeing a whole load of little bodies lined up on a dish, but I have that Claudia Roden book and haven't yet cooked from it. May be it will be quail.
Shu Han said…
I don;t think I will ever bear eating normal beans on toast again.

hah about the knickers.

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