Cailles au Fenouil

Quails in Florentine Fennel

Due to increased farming here and in France quail is now cheaper. Although the quail is a small-boned bird the meat is surprisingly filling; usually one per person is adequate in a meal with several courses. This is a delightful summer dish which I devised in France but has now been cooked with great success many times here.

Ingredients

  • 2 quails
  • a large head of Florentine fennel
  • 55 g(2 oz) butter
  • a few fronds of fennel shoots from the stalk
  • finely chopped parsley
  • a squeeze of lemon juice
  • salt, milled pepper
  • 1–2 tablespoons Pernod
  • 4 tablespoons crème fraîche or whipping cream

Method

Wipe the quails with a damp cloth and set aside.

Detach two of the largest shell-shaped pieces of fennel, carefully detaching them without splitting them. Blanch the fennel in salted boiling water for 1–2 minutes, and then drain.

Soften half the butter and mix with the fennel fronds, finely chopped, the parsley and a squeeze of lemon juice. Melt the remainder of the butter in a flameproof casserole and slightly brown the quail all over. Lift out the birds and place a teaspoon of the savoury butter inside each; spread a little more over the breast of each bird. Reserve a little butter to finish the sauce with later.

Tuck each quail neatly into a shell of fennel so that the fennel looks like what a friend called angel’s wings. Season each bird lightly with salt and pepper and place in the casserole. Sprinkle a little Pernod over the quail and cover with a butter paper and a lid. Cook in a moderate oven (Mark 5, 190°C, 375°F) for 30–40 minutes until the meat is cooked.

Transfer the quail and fennel to a hot serving dish, cover with the butter paper and keep hot. Add 1 tablespoon of Pernod to the juices in the casserole and simmer for 1–2 minutes. Stir in the cream and when hot, add the remainder of the herb butter. Taste and add a fraction more Pernod or seasoning if necessary, but the sauce should only hint at the aniseed flavour of the wine, just as an echo of the fennel.

Spoon the sauce over the quail and serve.

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