Small packages

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 17 February, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 17 February, 2008, 12:00am

Succulent dark quail meat is delicious. When boned as instructed below, the little birds take just a few minutes to cook.

Grilled quail with baby spinach, arugula, beetroot and mustard dressing (pictured)

This recipe is by food stylist Vivian Herijanto.

4 quails, about 150 grams each, thawed, if frozen

80 grams arugula

60 grams baby spinach

4 small-medium beetroots, boiled until tender then peeled

2 tsp white vinegar

Cooking oil, for the grill

Fine sea salt, rough-flaked sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

For the mustard dressing:

2 large egg yolks, at room temperature

1 garlic clove, minced

15 grams Dijon mustard

15 grams whole-grain mustard

360ml canola oil

About 20ml fresh lemon juice

15ml balsamic vinegar

Make the dressing by whisking the egg yolks in a bowl then mixing in the garlic and mustards. Slowly whisk in the oil, a little at a time, to create an emulsion, letting each addition absorb fully before adding more. After all the oil has been incorporated, add the lemon juice and balsamic vinegar then add salt and pepper to taste. Add a little more lemon juice if needed to balance the flavours.

Bone the quails. Place each bird, breast-side down, on a cutting board. Use kitchen shears to cut along one side of the backbone, from the tail to the neck. Cut along the other side of the backbone to remove it. Open the quail and lay it skin-side up and press firmly with your hand to flatten it. Remove the bones: most can be pulled out with your fingers; the others (such as the breast bone) can be removed by scraping away the flesh with a knife to loosen the bone. Scrape away the flesh at the thigh bone then cut it off where it attaches to the drumstick. Cut off the wing tip. When finished, the only bones will be in the drumstick and two joints of the wing. Sprinkle salt and pepper on both sides of each bird. Heat a cast-iron grill pan until it's very hot and brush it with oil. Grill the quails for about three minutes on each side or until cooked to your liking.

Toss the arugula and spinach with 60ml of the dressing, lightly coating the leaves. Thinly slice the beets, toss with the white vinegar and arrange the slices around four plates. Place a mound of the greens on each plate, top with a quail (halved) and sprinkle with rough-flaked sea salt. Drizzle more of the dressing around the plate and serve.

Quail with leek and fingerling potatoes

4 quails, thawed, if frozen

15ml olive oil

30 grams unsalted butter

15ml cooking oil

2 large leeks, white and pale-green part only

300 grams fingerling potatoes

60 grams double cream or mascarpone

Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Cut the leeks in half lengthwise and rinse them thoroughly to remove the dirt. Cut them into 1cm-thick slices. Cut the potatoes (unpeeled) into thin rounds.

Bone the quails as in the first recipe. Sprinkle the birds with salt and pepper then lightly coat them with olive oil. Heat a large shallow pan or round casserole dish until hot. Quickly brown the quails on both sides then set them aside. Add the butter and cooking oil to the pan then stir in the leek and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Stir briefly over a medium flame until the leek is wilted.

Place the potatoes over the leek in concentric circles, starting at the perimeter of the pan and overlapping slightly. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, cover the pan with the lid, turn the heat to low and cook for about three minutes. Place the quails in one layer over the potatoes, cover the pan with the lid and cook over a low heat for about six minutes or until the quails are done and the potatoes are tender. Remove the quails and drizzle the cream over the potatoes. Swirl the pan gently to distribute the cream without displacing the layer of potatoes. Place the quails back over the potatoes and simmer over a medium heat, uncovered, until the juices thicken to a light sauce consistency. Serve immediately.

Barbecued quail with pomegranate molasses

Pomegranate molasses gives barbecued quail a beautiful, deeply charred look. If you can't find it, substitute 35ml aged balsamic vinegar mixed with 15ml water. For best results, the quail should be cooked over a coal-fired barbecue.

4 quails, thawed, if frozen

50ml pomegranate molasses

1/4 small onion

1 small garlic clove

Finely grated zest of one lemon

20ml fresh lemon juice

15ml extra virgin olive oil

Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Bone the quails as in the first recipe then sprinkle them on both sides with salt and pepper. Grate the onion and garlic into a bowl (a medium-holed rasp grater is the most effective) then mix with the pomegranate molasses, olive oil and lemon zest and juice. Smear this mixture lightly over both sides of the quails, stack them in a bowl and refrigerate for at least two hours, tossing them occasionally so the marinade is distributed evenly. Let them reach room temperature before cooking.

Light the coals in the grill about 45 minutes before you want to eat so they are smouldering hot. Put the oiled grill racks about 3cm above the coals. Place the quails, skin-side down, on the grill and cook for about two minutes. Turn the birds over, cover the grill with the lid and cook for three to four minutes. Turn the quails over one last time and grill for three to four minutes or until the skin is charred in spots and the meat is cooked to your liking.

styling Vivian Herijanto