Italian Roast Quail with Raisins

Quail are migratory game birds that winter in Africa and which are still shot in Italy, Spain and France. In the past an expensive delicacy, large quantities were netted in Egypt for fattening in this country in the 18th century and were also to be found wild in southern England. They were more expensive then, with a dressed bird fetching two shillings and two pence at Smithfield in 1752. Today reared on a large scale in heated barns, like Lilliputian chickens, they retail for about £1 each. They are small, so you will need 2 for a main course, 1 for a first course.

The largest producer of quail and quails’ eggs in the UK is Fayre Game, who can produce up to 45,000 birds and 115,000 eggs a week at their Lancashire nursery near Lytham. The quail are reared in what the company describes as warmed barns on deep litter and are fed on a diet of mixed wheat, maize and soya. No hormones or growth-promoters are used, the birds are killed at 6 weeks and are plucked and gutted before being sold oven-ready, or boned and stuffed, or smoked. They are best simply roasted, here with the addition of some raisins plumped in brandy or grappa, a very Italian treatment, quaglie con uvetta.

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Ingredients

  • 115 g/ 4 oz butter
  • 8 cleaned quail
  • olive oil, for brushing
  • salt and pepper
  • about 350 g/ 12 oz soft instant polenta
  • 115 g/ 4 oz mascarpone

For the Raisin Sauce

  • 60 g/ 2 oz raisins
  • 100 ml/ fl oz brandy
  • 30 g/ 1 oz unsalted butter
  • splash of white wine

Method

The night before, put the raisins for the sauce to soak in the brandy.

Next day, when ready to cook, preheat the oven to 250°C/475°F/gas 9. Put a knob of butter inside each of the quail, then brush the skin with olive oil and season liberally with salt and pepper. Roast the birds for 10 minutes, remove and allow to rest for 10 minutes.

While the birds are cooking, make the polenta following the packet instructions and keep warm.

While the birds are resting, make the sauce by adding to the roasting pan the raisins, butter and a splash of white wine, bubbling and stirring over a high heat to reduce to a syrupy residue.

Just before serving, finish the polenta by beating in the mascarpone. Serve the quail on a bed of the polenta. Pour the sauce over and around the quail.