Quail hunting

By Nicola Harvey

Associate editor online, Nicola Harvey, goes quail hunting with Damien Pignolet, MiNDFOOD.

I must be honest, I’ve never found the idea
of cooking quail for dinner particularly appealing. They are a tiny bird
and thus not likely to sate large appetites, and they have a distinct
gamy flavour that is not to everyone’s liking. Furthermore, there’s the
small question of where does one actually find quail?

Of course,
the latter query could be meet with a quip about finding a bird or two
in many a field across the countryside, but I’m not a hunter and prefer
to leave such pastimes to the moneyed-types in England.

So, the
obvious solution was to hit the farmers’ markets because I was
determined to cook Wild Rice & Roast Quail Salad from Damien
Pignolet’s Salades cookbook. Accompanied by my sister, who was
visiting for the weekend, we vowed to find four quail or keel over
trying. Three farmers’ markets later we were still without quail.  But
I’d manage to acquire a head of radicchio, a bag of Portobello mushrooms
and a small bottle of verjuice from CarriageWorks markets – the latter
was required in the recipe but will likely sit on my shelf untouched for
months to come.

Feeling slightly dismayed about the lack of
quail we headed to my local supermarket to pick up the remaining
ingredients: wild rice, fresh thyme, figs and lime juice. On a whim I
checked the poultry section, just…in…case. And, what do you know!  There
on the shelf was a pack of quail.  Who would have thought?

Armed with all the vital ingredients we headed home to lift the lid off a bottle of Mt Difficulty pinot noir.

recipe appeared easy enough. Butterfly the quail then rub with olive
oil, thyme and garlic.  Cook the wild rice on low heat, not high, or it
will split. Make vinaigrette, sweat the mushrooms, radicchio and
verjuice over low heat, grill the quail, then mix it all together with
sliced figs and lemon zest.  Wait, hang on, butterfly the quail?  Such a
direction is why I tend not to try delicate French recipes. After a
quick phone call to a friend’s father (an expert in the meat department)
I was back on track, armed with slightly dubious bone-removal skills
and another glass of pinot.

The salad came together quickly from
that point.  Yes, the wild rice did split, but the grilled quail breast
(removed from the bird after cooking and sliced thinly) was delectable,
as were the little legs stacked atop the rice salad.

I finished
wanting more, but I suppose that’s the charm of delicacies. Fortunately
we had a plate of manchego cheese and dried muscatel still to devour. 
Oh, and did I mention more wine?


– Nicola Harvey

SALADES by Damien Pignolet (Penguin, $60)


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