Flights of fancy

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 04 October, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 04 October, 2009, 12:00am

Quails can be casual or elegant, depending on how they're served. In these two dishes, the tiny birds are tunnel-boned - all the bones in the cavity are removed without cutting into the skin - and when they're stuffed and cooked, they look whole but are easy to eat. Tunnel-boning quails is easier than tunnel-boning chickens and other larger birds because quail bones are thin and delicate, and can, for the most part, be pulled out without using a knife.

Quails with roasted garlic, caramelised lemon, peas and carrots (pictured)

1 head of garlic

60ml olive oil, divided

4 quails

4 sprigs fresh thyme

1 large lemon

30 grams unsalted butter

2 large shallots, minced

1 medium-sized carrot (about 80 grams), peeled and diced

300 grams petits pois

100ml quail stock, made by simmering the quail bones with about 200ml water for 45 minutes

11/2 tsp fresh thyme leaves

45 grams cream

Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cut off the two end joints of the quail wings, so only the drumette portion is left. Put each quail breast-side down on the cutting board, with the tail end closest to you. Gently work your fingertips between the flesh and backbone and start pulling them apart, taking care not to tear the thin flesh. Pull the meat away from the backbone down the entire length, all the way to the neck, and pull it out. Feel around in the cavity for the rib bones and pull them out.

Turn the quail over so it's breast side-up. Working from the tail end of the bird, use a sharp paring knife to make a slit in the thin membrane at the breastbone then use your fingertips to start separating the flesh from the breastbone, working carefully where the two sides of the breast come together because the flesh is very thin. Work as far down the breastbone as you can then snap it off within the cavity and pull it out. Turn the bird around so the neck-side is facing you. Pull out the wishbone and collar-bones from the cavity, using a paring knife to cut the tough tendons. Feel around the cavity for any bones you may have missed and remove them. When you're finished, the only bones in the bird should be the drumettes (on the wings) and the drumstick and thigh bones. Season the quail cavities and skin with salt and pepper.

Preheat the oven to 220 degrees Celsius. Break the head of garlic into individual cloves, leaving the thin, papery skin intact. Drizzle the cloves with 20ml olive oil, wrap them loosely in aluminium foil and bake for about 30 minutes, or until tender. Cool the garlic to room temperature. Turn the oven up to 230 degrees. Quarter the lemon lengthwise and remove any visible seeds. Heat a small skillet over a medium-high flame until very hot. Add 10ml of olive oil and put the lemon quarters, cut-side down, in the skillet. Brown on one side then turn the lemons over and sear the other cut side. Cool to room temperature.

Stuff the cavity of each quail with one piece of lemon, two or three garlic cloves and a thyme sprig, then use kitchen string to truss the legs close to the body. Rub about 10ml of olive oil over the birds. Heat an oven-proof skillet until very hot. Place the quails, breast side-down in the skillet and sear over a high heat until medium brown, then turn them over and brown the other side. Put the skillet with the birds into the 230-degree oven and cook for about eight minutes, or until the quails are done. Remove the trussing string from the quails when they're cooked.

While the quails are cooking, heat the butter with 20ml olive oil. Add the shallots and cook until soft, then stir in the carrots, peas and thyme leaves. Stir in the quail stock. Season with salt and pepper. Cover the pan partially with a lid and simmer until the vegetables are tender, stirring occasionally.

Put the quails in the pan, drizzle the cream over them, then simmer until most of the liquid has evaporated. Serve immediately. Squeeze the lemon (from the cavity) over the birds. The roasted garlic cloves (once they've been squeezed from the papery skin) will be sweet and tender.

Quails stuffed with prosciutto and pork

200 grams minced pork

3 shallots, divided

1 garlic clove, minced

A pinch of chilli flakes

2 thin slices prosciutto

4 quails (tunnel-boned as in the first recipe)

1 small carrot, roughly chopped

1/2 a celery stalk, roughly chopped

20ml olive oil

20 grams unsalted butter, chilled

Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Mince one of the shallots then add it to the minced pork with the garlic. Add the chilli flakes. Season with salt and pepper and refrigerate for about 30 minutes.

Put the quail bones in a saucepan, add the carrot, celery and two peeled and roughly chopped shallots. Add about 60ml water and simmer until the water evaporates. Brown the bones, shallots, carrots and celery, stirring frequently. When well browned, add about 250ml of water and simmer for 45 minutes. Strain the liquid into another pan and simmer to reduce to about 60ml. Season with salt and pepper.

Divide the pork into four pieces and roll each one into an oval shape. Cut the slices of prosciutto in half then wrap around the pork. Heat 10ml of oil in a skillet and brown the prosciutto-wrapped pork on all sides. Lower the heat and cook for five minutes, or until cooked, turning the meat. Allow to cool.

Preheat the oven to 230 degrees. Season the quails with salt and pepper and rub the skin with 10ml oil. Stuff the pork in the cavity of each bird. Truss the legs close to the body. Heat an oven-proof skillet until very hot and brown the birds, breast side-down before turning over and browning the other side. Place the skillet with the birds in the oven and roast for about eight minutes, or until cooked through. Heat the quail stock in the pan then remove from the heat and swirl in the cold butter. Spoon the sauce over the birds and serve immediately.

Styling Corner Kitchen Cooking School