Quail Salad with Polenta, Rocket & Mushrooms

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Appears in

Food of the Sun: A Fresh Look at Mediterranean Cooking

Food of the Sun

By Alastair Little and Richard Whittington

Published 1995

  • About

The Mediterranean would not be the Mediterranean without the enthusiastic consumption of small birds. There is a frequently brutal attitude in which the word ‘conservation’ never raises its head, where song birds are blown from the sky or caught cruelly in nets. The great thing about quail is that, while they have all the requisite qualities of size and delicate flavour, they are farmed and can be regarded pretty much as Lilliputian chickens.

This is a particularly delicious dish, full of interesting contrasts of texture, colour and flavour. As with so many foods of the sun, it has been created to be eaten at room temperature.


  • 4 quail
  • 200 g/7 oz rocket
  • 4 tbsp Gremolata
  • 4 large flat field mushrooms
  • 150 ml/¼ pt extra-virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper

For the Marinade

  • 1 garlic clove
  • 2 lemons 4 tbsp olive oil

For the Polenta

  • 140 g/5 oz instant polenta
  • 25 g/¾ oz Parmesan cheese
  • ¼ nutmeg
  • 100 ml/ fl oz (double) cream
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 tbsp sunflower oil

For the Balsamic Vinaigrette

  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil



Spatchcock the quail: first cut out their backbones with poultry shears or strong scissors. Slam the heel of your hand down to break the breastbones and flatten.

Make the marinade: peel and smash the garlic and chop finely. Juice the lemons and mix the juice with the garlic, generous amounts of salt and pepper and the olive oil.

Marinate the quail in this mixture for 2 hours at room temperature or for up to 24 hours in the refrigerator.

Make the polenta, following the packet instructions but using two-thirds of the specified amount of liquid. As it thickens in the pan, grate in the Parmesan and season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Stir in the cream. Pour into an oiled Swiss roll tin to cool and set.

Pick over, wash and dry the rocket. Peel the mushrooms and detach the stems. Make the gremolata.

Make the balsamic vinaigrette: mix the vinegar and olive oil. Season to taste.

Cut the polenta into triangles (3 per person; some will be left over for another dish).

Preheat the grill and a ridged grilling pan or barbecue.


Grill the mushrooms dry, giving them 3 minutes on the white side and 1 minute on the black. Transfer to a dish, sprinkle over 2 tablespoons of the gremolata and dribble over a little of the extra-virgin olive oil.

Over a medium heat, cook the quail on the grilling pan or barbecue, 4 minutes each side. Turn 4 times for quadrillage if using a ridged pan.

Remove and allow to rest in a warm place for 10 minutes.

In a frying pan, sauté the polenta triangles in the olive oil and sunflower oil mix.


Toss the rocket in vinaigrette to coat each leaf and mound in the centre of 4 plates. Arrange the polenta around. Slice the mushrooms and scatter them around. Put the quails on top of the rocket. Sprinkle with the remaining gremolata. Dress with a little extra-virgin olive oil. This is partly finger food, so finger bowls would be a good idea

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