A long lunch, cooked by Fergus Henderson at his home in Covent Garden, for long-time friend and gallery owner Sadie Coles, leads to a suitably messy table. Here’s how to achieve it.
To serve four
Sea salt and black pepper
1o quails (there are always those who eat 3)
Extra virgin olive oil
St. John Boulevard Napoléon
(2011) Grenache, Minervois
The quail, unfortunately, falls into a kind of bird purgatory; it is not a game bird, though some describe it as such; it is now thoroughly farmed, so not glamorous enough to warrant the ‘hands on’ battling that people exert on grouse and partridge and is denied from joining the chickens’ gang, as it is seen as too fiddly to eat. Then finally, to kick the quail while it’s down, people say it has no flavour.
Put all this behind you and let me put forward the case for the joys of a bowl of thoroughly roasted quails.
Season the quails inside and out very well, being especially heavy on the salt. In a hot frying pan, with a small splash of olive oil, brown the quails all over. When you are satisfied with their colour place them on a lightly oiled roasting pan and place in a hot (425°f) oven for 20 minutes or so.
Despite the quail’s fragile reputation, it is robust when it comes to cooking, not having the drying out potential of the partridge or the angst of getting that perfect moment of blush in a grouse breast. The quail wants plenty of cooking, to the point that its legs can be pulled easily from the ribcage and the flesh sucked off the leg bone. Serve the quail salty and well done in a bowl in the middle of the table and encourage some hands-on eating.
Serve with a bowl of lentils or simply a watercress salad.