The other day I had lunch with an old friend in the revitalised Kings Cross area of London, at the excellent Caravan restaurant.
I think it’s an example of what I heard described on BBC Radio 4’s Food Programme as “The Ottolenghi Effect” … a tendency for our interest in Mediterranean food to shift further south and east.
Caravan’s menu is pretty eclectic but we had a series of small plates including (from memory – I forgot to write anything down and they’ve since changed the selection) spicy cauliflower with harissa (delicious) and spicy grilled quail.
The quail were finger-licking good and inspired me to search out some of these tiny, tasty birds. Tipping my hat to the maestro, I adapted a recipe from Ottolenghi – The Cookbook and served it with his suggestion of mograbiah salad.
Sticky Roast Quail
The quail need to be spatchcocked, which means snipping out the backbone and then flattening the birds out by pressing down on the breastbone. It’s a bit fiddly so if you can get your butcher to do it, so much the better.
4 quail, spatchcocked
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
2 tbsp ground cumin
1 tspn ground cardamom seeds
1/2 tspn ground allspice
1 tbsp ground turmeric
1/2 tbsp sweet smoked paprika
Pinch of salt
4 garlic cloves, peeled
30g fresh ginger, peeled and grated
2 tbsp pomegranate molasses or honey
180ml olive oil
Put the garlic and ginger in a pestle and mortar with a pinch of salt and work to a paste.
Add all the spices and stir well. Transfer to a bigger bowl and gradually whisk in the pomegranate molasses and oil.
Put the quail into the marinade and massage the goo into the birds.
Cover and chill – the Ottolenghi recipe says for a minimum of 4 hours and preferably overnight – but mine only had a couple of hours and it was still very good.
Preheat the oven to 400F/200C/Gas Mark 6 and cook the quail for 20-25 minutes, turning and brushing with the marinade a couple of times. They look alarmingly froggy when they go in …
… but they’re scrumptious little morsels when they emerge.
Mograbiah is the Arabic name for a large variety of couscous made from durum wheat semolina. You can sometimes find the Italian version, fregola, in Italian delis.
Cooking times vary depending on which make you have so it’s best to check the packet. This salad is meant to be eaten cold but it’s really good still warm too.
1 tbsp olive oil
1 mild to medium hot red chilli
1 large spring onion
3 tbsp coarsely-chopped parsley
3 tbsp coarsely-chopped coriander
3 tbspn coarsely-chopped mint
Sea salt and black pepper
Cook the mograbiah according to the packet instructions until cooked but still with a good bit of bite.
While it’s cooking, cut the chilli in half lengthways, remove the seeds and chop finely.
Finely slice the spring onion and chop the herbs.
Strain the cooked mograbiah thoroughly then transfer to a bowl.
Add the butter and oil, stir well, and season well with salt and pepper.
Segment the lemon, peeling off and discarding all the skin and pith and cutting along the internal membranes to release the lemon segments into the mograbiah. Squeeze any remaining juice into the bowl.
Add the chilli and spring onion to the bowl. Check the seasoning and just before serving, stir through the herbs.