And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
I have heard the murmurings of the children of Israel: speak unto them, saying, At even ye shall eat flesh, and in the morning ye shall be filled with bread; and ye shall know that I am the LORD your God.
And it came to pass, that at even the quails came up, and covered the camp: and in the morning the dew lay round about the host.
As you can see, eating quail has gone back a good few years. You don’t see them very much in the UK these days; I’ve perhaps seen them twice at Farmers’ Markets. The USA, however, is chock-full of tricky-to-find ingredients to help me with this blinking blog project.
Although classified as a game bird, quails are farmed these days as they’re not very common, and it is now illegal to kill them, so if you hear one chirping away in a nearby field, let it be.
People in the Middle Ages certainly did not let them be, because they loved them. Actually they ate everything it seems. Here’s a list I found of their favourite game: quail (natch), partridge, pheasant, hare, rabbit….ok thus far, all Grigson recipes, but then… rook, crow, raven, lark, sparrow, capercaillie, peacock, stork, heron, swan, crane and bittern. Phew! A certain Alfred Gottschalk says on the matter: ‘It is wonderful that the stomach of man can profit by all manner of birds, and yet there are some of them that even starving dogs would not eat.’ Quite.
Griggers doesn’t give that much detail on how to cook them, in fact this is the whole recipe: ‘…they can be browned in butter and braised with a little stock, port wine and orange peel.’
So that is exactly what I did. They were browned in a cast-iron casserole and covered in a quarter of a pint of chicken stock and a good slug of port, along with some salt and pepper and some pared orange peel and popped them in a 160°C (325°F) for 20 minutes. I then took them out to rest and used a beurre manie (i.e equal weights and butter and flour mashed together) to thicken it. I served it not with the usual game accoutrements (bread sauce, game chips etc), but mashed potatoes and some wilted spinach.
#289 Quail. One of the mildest of the game birds, pale-fleshed and light to eat. It’s difficult to keep these tiny moist so quick cooking is required. The port wine and orange gravy was delicious and didn’t overpower the birds. These smaller game are good, but I think I prefer the stronger birds like pheasant and pigeon. I did enjoy feeling all medieval having an entire animal sat on my plate, so just for that it was worth cooking them. 6.5/10.