Quails are funny little things; they look too small and gimmicky to be serious birds but in truth they taste really good, in a mildly gamey sort of way, even though they’re farmed, they have a fairly high proportion of lean, meaty flesh to bone and they’re not hard to cook, even in large numbers, which makes them good candidates for a dinner party.
On the outskirts of Montuïri, you’ll find one of the most offbeat restaurants in all of Majorca called Son Bascós. It is basically an annex to a quail farm where the Common Quail (Coturnix coturnix) is farmed, raised and bred. Apparently, around 35,000 of the small creatures are kept on the finca, with some 3,000 new quails hatching every week. It’s hugely popular with the locals and unsurprisingly it’s known for its char grilled quail dishes.
Originally native to the Middle East, quails are now found across Europe.
As it’s a small bird, one will serve one person as a starter, but you’ll need at least two as a main course. The simplest way to cook them is to roast them. Take the quail out of the fridge around 30 minutes before cooking. Using kitchen paper, wipe the outside of the bird and inside the cavity. Season inside with salt and pepper then, tie the legs together with string. Brush with olive oil or melted butter and roast in a hot oven (180c) for 20 minutes. You can also wrap the breasts with pancetta, bacon, Parma ham or vine leaves to prevent them from drying out, and they are far more interesting to eat if you stuff them or marinate them first in olive oil, garlic and herbs or something hot like chilli paste and something sharp, like lemon juice. Alternatively, you can spatchcock them before cooking (particularly for grilling or barbecuing as they will cook faster that way). Cut out the backbone with a pair of kitchen scissors, and then use the flat of your hand to push down along the length of the bird, flattening it out.
I actually love to pot roast or braise quail in a little stock as it keeps the meat nice and moist. The Spanish have a fantastic way of doing this called “encebollado” where the quails are cooked in onions, garlic and white wine. It’s a deliciously simple dish and is best served tableside.
· 8 quails
· 2 large Spanish onions, finely sliced
· 3 garlic cloves, crushed
· 200ml olive oil
· 200ml dry white wine
· 200ml chicken stock
· 3tpsns sherry vinegar
· 2 bay leaves
· 2tbsp chives, finely chopped
· A sprig of fresh thyme
· A pinch of paprika
Heat half the olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan or earthenware dish and gently brown and sear the quails on all sides. Remove and set the quails aside.
Return the saucepan to the heat and add the remaining olive oil and the onions. Cook over a gentle flame, stirring with a wooden spoon, without colouring the onions for 3-4 minutes until they start to soften. Add the crushed garlic, paprika, the sprig of thyme and the bay leaves.
Add the quails and stir well with the wooden spoon to coat the meat. Add the dry white wine, chicken stock, sherry vinegar and cover with a lid. Cook slowly over a gentle flame for 25-30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season with salt and pepper, sprinkle with chopped chives and serve immediately.
Codornices rellenos con uvas y "hierbas secas"
Stuffed Quails with Grapes and “Hierbas secas”
Majorcan Hierbas is an aniseed liqueur and other aromatic plants such as camomile, fennel, lemon, lemon verbena, marjoram, mint, orange, and rosemary. Green or amber in colour, it is usually served as a digestif, after a meal.
· 8 quails, oven ready
· 350g Goat’s cheese
· 4 tbsp flat-leafed parsley, finely chopped
· 4 tbsp fresh chives, finely chopped
· 16 slices of Pancetta or streaky bacon
· 1 large onion, finely sliced
· 2 garlic cloves, crushed
· 1tsp paprika (tap de corti)
· 50g salted butter
· 5 tbsp Olive oil
· 100ml Hierbas secas (Majorcan liquor)
· 1 sprig of fresh thyme
· 100ml dry white wine
· 250ml chicken stock
· 200g white grapes (seedless)
Mix the goats’ cheese, parsley and chives together in a bowl and season to taste.
Stuff the quails with the cheese mixture using a teaspoon. Roll two slices of pancetta around each quail and secure with kitchen string.
Melt the butter and olive oil together in a large casserole dish, and gently shallow fry the quails for approximately two minutes, or until golden on each side. Remove the quails and gently fry the onions and garlic until soft. Return the quails to the pan and add the Hierbas secas. Increase the heat and carefully flame, turning the quails to coat them in the liquid.
Stir in the chicken stock, wine and add the fresh thyme and paprika. Cover the casserole with a lid and cook for 15 minutes over a gentle flame. Remove the lid, add the grapes and cook for a further 10 minutes. Season to taste and serve immediately.
ESCABECHE DE CODORNICES
‘Escabeche’ pickling has been a common practice for preserving food in Spain for over a thousand years. Using a stock made of vinegar, wine, oil, bay leaves and peppercorns, many types of foods are pickled in this way, from wild mushrooms to small game birds to all types of seafood. Escabeche of quails can be made the day before and is a perfect appetiser as part of a tapas platter. It’s quick, easy and inexpensive to make and is also delicious.
· 4 quails
· 2tbsp flour
· 250 ml olive oil
· 125 ml sherry vinegar
· 125ml water
· 100ml dry white wine
· 5 black peppercorns (crushed)
· 1 small onion (sliced finely into rings)
· 3 garlic cloves (crushed)
· 1tsps paprika
· 1tsp oregano
· 1 clove
· 2 bay leaves
· 1tsp salt
Clean the quails and cut them in half along the backbone. Dust them with a little flour and fry them in hot olive oil for one minute on each side until they start to brown. Remove the quails from the frying pan and set aside.
Place all the ingredients for the escabeche in a clean heavy-bottomed saucepan and set over a gentle flame. Add the browned quails and cook slowly over a gentle flame for 15-20 minutes. Remove from the heat and leave to cool completely. Cover with cling-film and place in the refrigerator and marinate for at least 24 hours. Serve with olives and salad leaves.