Quail is a game bird renowned for the delicacy of its taste. It may be very small, but it has delicious flavour in abundance. It is a particularly versatile game meat, suiting a wide variety of cuisines. It is simple to cook, which is great if you like the idea of game, but are daunted by cooking a duck or a turkey. There are many different breeds of quail - the variety I have used in this recipe was sourced from Game Farm, who breeds and supplies Japanese Quail grown the lush pastures of the Upper Hunter Valley in northern NSW. I've always been happy with the quality of their products (I have used their duck and turkey on many occasions) and they are quite easy to find these days. The Game Farm website will tell you where your nearest stockist can be found if you have no luck finding their quail.
If you are a bit squeamish about the idea of preparing quail, today's recipe is great, as it uses quail breast that is already off the bone. The flavour is not too strong and it is easy to eat - no small fiddly bones to deal with. This would be a good dish to try if you have never eaten quail before. All very managable. I actually love quail cooked in the Asian style - on the bone and super crispy, so you can actually eat the caramelised crunchy smaller bones - but I know that isn't everyone's cup of tea. I promise today's recipe is a much more straightforward affair. It would make a beautiful dinner party entree or a light lunch or dinner. If you absolutely can't face the idea of quail, you could perhaps substitute the quail for sliced chicken thigh. Sure, it isn't exactly the same dish, but the flavours would still work.
I have used beautiful fresh sorrel from my garden as one of the salad components of this dish. Sorrel is used commonly in French cuisine - particularly in sauces and soups - but it is delicious as a salad green. It has a fresh, almost grassy character that works beautifully with the sweetness of the figs. Sorrel is very easy to grow and a great addition to your herb garden. Always use the very young leaves if you are eating it as salad, as the mature leaves are strong and more suited to soups or other dishes.
Aromatic quail breast salad
with sorrel and figs
You will need: 350g quail breasts (skin on, off the bone),10 juniper berries, 1 teaspoon fennel seed, 1 mignonette lettuce, 1 cup sorrel leaves, 4 fresh ripe figs (each one sliced into 6 peices), 1/2 red onion sliced very finely, 1 lebanese cucumber deseeded and sliced.
For the dressing: 1 clove minced garlic,2 tablespoons walnut or hazelnut oil, 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar, 2 tablespoons maple syrup, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, pinch of cayenne pepper, 2 teaspoons warm water, salt and pepper.
Method: Crush the juniper berries and fennel seed (or chop them roughly) and place in a bowl with the olive oil and the quail breasts. Season generously with salt and pepper and combine well. Cover and put in the fridge to infuse for at least an hour - overnight is even better if you have time.
To make the dressing, whisk together the garlic, sherry vinegar, maple syrup, lemon juice, cayenne and warm water. Season with salt and pepper to taste - adjust amounts to your taste if required. You may want more lemon, or a touch more maple syrup. Just taste and adjust as you go.
Assemble the salad ingredients on your serving plates/platter.
Wipe the quail breasts with a paper towel to remove any large peices of juniper of fennel. Heat an oiled grill or frypan and cook the quail skin side down until crisp and browned. Turn over and allow to cook for another minute. The quail will cook quickly, so watch that you do not overcook it - don't forget that it will continue to cook when you are resting it.
Remove the quail from the pan and allow to rest for 5 minutes.
Arrange the quail over your slad ingredients and drizzle over some of the dressing. Serve right away. Serves 4.