Quail Marinated in Wine, Vinegar, Spices and Herbs (Codornices en escabeche)

Ideal as a starter, this quail dish is cooked in wine vinegar, fresh thyme, cloves and orange zest. The Rick Stein recipe is finished with an bitter leaf salad.

Introduction

All countries had ways of preserving meat and fish before refrigeration, such as smoking, drying and salting. Escabeche came from the Moors and was a process whereby small game birds like quail or partridge were preserved by first being fried and then steeped in a vinegar-based marinade made from boiling vinegar and the pan juices, together with whatever vegetables were to hand or liked. The reduced marinade was then returned to the pan with the game birds and gently braised, the point being that there was enough vinegar to keep them from going off. Originally there would have been a lot more vinegar, in the same way that kippers were once made with a lot more salt, but these days the slightly tart flavour of a good red wine vinegar is there mostly for pleasure. You can serve these quail at room temperature or warmed through, in which case use some of the tart aromatic juices to dress a bitter-leaf salad. It makes a lovely, unusual first course.

Serves 6 as a starter

Ingredients

12 farmed quail (or 6 oven-ready partridges)
205ml olive oil
1 medium onion, halved and thinly sliced
100g carrots, halved lengthways and thinly sliced
1 head garlic, halved horizontally
A pinch of crushed dried chillies
4 fresh bay leaves
3 large thyme sprigs
400ml dry white wine
100ml red wine vinegar
4 cloves
12 black peppercorns
3 pared strips orange zest
10cm sprig of rosemary or 2 sprigs fresh oregano
A small pinch of saffron strands
1 tsp caster sugar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Mixed escarole, radicchio and curly endive salad leaves, and crusty fresh bread, to serve

Instructions

Season the quail or partridge well with salt and pepper inside and out and tie their legs together with string to give them a neat shape.

Heat 4 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large flameproof casserole in which the birds will fit quite snugly side by side. Add half the birds and fry over a medium-high heat until nicely browned on all sides. Lift out onto a plate and set aside. Repeat with the remainder, adding another tablespoon of oil if you need it.

Add another 3 tablespoons of oil to the casserole with the onion, carrot, garlic halves (cut-side down), chilli, bay leaves, thyme and ½ teaspoon of salt, and cook gently for 10 minutes. Add the wine, vinegar, cloves, peppercorns, orange zest, rosemary or oregano, saffron and sugar. Rest the birds on top of the vegetables and herbs, pour over the remaining oil, add another ½ teaspoon of salt and bring back to the boil. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer very gently, for 25 minutes for the quail, 40-45 minutes for the partridge.

Lift the birds into a serving dish and snip off and discard the pieces of string. Strain the cooking juices through a sieve set over a bowl. If the skin of the garlic has loosened, remove and discard it. Add the halved bulb to the dish and scatter over the vegetables and herbs from the sieve. Return the cooking liquid to the pan and simmer vigorously until well flavoured and reduced to about 250ml. Adjust the seasoning, pour the juices back over the birds and leave to cool. Then cover and refrigerate for at least 24 hours and up to 3-4 days, turning the birds in the marinade every now and then.

To serve, lift a couple of quail or one of the partridge onto each plate and pile some of the mixed bitter salad leaves alongside. Spoon juices over the leaves and the birds and serve with plenty of bread.

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