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 Mallorca 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 barbecueing 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.
Quails stewed in onions, garlic & white wine
Ingredients serves 4
2 large Spanish onions, finely sliced
3 garlic cloves, crushed
200ml olive oil
200ml dry white wine
200ml chicken stock
3tpsn’s 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.
Recipe by Marc Fosh – Michelin Star Chef