In centuries past, people shot quail while out after partridges, but these days you won’t find them on our quarry list, says Rose Prince. Serves two.

Should you be tempted by this recipe for quail with chorizo, a favourite discovered at Tom Pemberton’s wonderful Notting Hill restaurant, Hereford Road, I highly recommend British quail fromThe Wild Meat Company, whose birds are loose-housed in free-to-fly barns. They are also larger than usual.

Sometimes it feels like a quail is a meal for half an appetite or, if you’re making a feast, why not use them as a starter?

Quail with chorizo and aioli

Ingredients

  • 2 quails
  • 2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • fine sea salt
  • 2 fresh ‘cooking’ chorizo sausages
  • 8 or more asparagus spears, poached for five minutes

For the aioli

  • 1 or 2 garlic cloves
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 150ml groundnut oil
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • Juice of half a lemon

Method

  1. Prepare the quails using the reverse spatchcock method. Use game scissors to snip along the breastbone neatly and then flatten the bird out. Snip off the wing tips, as this assists with both cooking and eating the quail. Brush with olive oil and season. Preheat the oven, fan-assisted or ‘turbo’ grill is ideal, to 150°C. Split the chorizo sausages in half lengthways.
  2. Start the cooking on the hob, browning the quails on the skin side. Place them in a roasting tin with the chorizo and put in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes. The birds are done when the breast feels firm when pressed. The chorizo should be browned.
  3. Remove from the oven (leave the sausages in if not done). Rest the quail in a warm place for five minutes.
  4. Now make the aioli. Crush the garlic and a pinch of salt using the tip of a knife until you have a wet paste. Add this to a bowl with the egg yolks and mustard, and beat the mixture well.
  5. Very gradually, beat in the groundnut oil until you have a thick emulsion, beginning by adding a few drops at a time. Beat in the olive oil and lemon juice and set aside.
  6. To assemble the dish, separate the legs and breasts of the quail, discarding the backbone. Arrange on a serving dish with large slices of the chorizo and the poached asparagus, then serve with the aioli.
  7. Accompany with warmed-through flatbreads, or I find that fried new potatoes go really well with it.

Some thoughts on quail

Once upon a time, a few would have been added to the bag, over early season stubbles, but these days with modern game laws, quail will have migrated back to Africa by the time the season is in full swing. Interestingly, they are the only migratory gamebird in Britain, and I think that categorisation just about justifies their place in this column.

There is something pleasantly medieval about eating quail and it said that they were a particular favourite of Jane Seymour, Henry VIII’s third unfortunate wife. While farmed meat is seldom as ethical or sustainable as game, there is plenty of responsibly farmed quail in the UK, reared in places where the birds are allowed all the freedom they desire.

My one and only visit to a quail farm saw the birds housed in a stable with a courtyard outside — with plenty of netting above to prevent escapes — and the quail were busy being their usual bonkers selves. Grass was planted in their run, along with other ground cover — enough for them to potter about in, yet not so much that the farmer could not catch them. There was also a large sandpit, which offered a place to ‘bathe’. Despite the availability of responsibly farmed quail, intensive farms for both quail meat and eggs still dominate the market.

Welfare campaigner

Compassion in World Farming displays examples of some appalling husbandry on its website, showing egg-laying birds housed in tiny, low-ceilinged cages, plus thousands of quails destined for the meat business crammed into barns. I’ll never comfortably eat a quail’s egg canapé again without asking about the provenance of the particular eggs I’m being offered.