I ride my bike to work once or twice a week during the months that allow it; it’s a 15 mile round-trip journey and is what keeps me bathed in burritos. Part of my journey takes me through marshland then under a railroad bridge, which during lighter months is fine but in the dark sets my nerves on edge. I’ve tried to ignore this and cycle during the winter anyway, but my common sense tells me it’s best to play it safe and leave it until the days are bright again.
With there now enough light in the sky, I came out of my bicycling hibernation yesterday, complete with my winter coat of fat to keep me warm in the cold. And my months of non-activity showed. On the hill not a half-mile away from the start of my journey, women in Zimmer frames out-sped me. On the ride home, I was sometimes pedalling so slow I went backwards. Throughout both the rides there and back, every other cyclist on the road was alerted that I was struggling along, and instructed to ride past me at speeds designed to mock me. I’ll be repeating this humiliation again next week, after I’ve cobbled together the remaining scraps of my ego.
And so when I arrived home and found nothing in the fridge to cook, I felt it was beyond me to hop back on the bike and head to the supermarket. A rummage through the freezer turned up 2 quail that had been sitting there since a trip to a farmer’s market months ago. I bought them in a flush of farmer’s market idealism (“A farmer’s market! How wonderful! Oh look, quail!”) and immediately put them in the freezer hoping the magic of that act would make me think of something to do with them.
Perhaps the impetus was to prove that I was skillful at something or perhaps it was that I was so downtrodden that I wanted to tread on a lesser creature, but last night the quail were on the dinner menu. A hunt around for recipes turned up spicy quail from the ever-reliable Nigel Slater. Unlike some other cookbook writers, such as Delia or Nigella, I haven’t come across a bad Nigel Slater recipe. In both explanation and execution, his recipes are usually straight-forward and practical and produce reliable results. These quail were as Nigel promised they’d be – tender, succulent, and all the strong ingredients a good balance to the gamey quail meat. He suggests you can do the same thing to chicken thighs or other such meat, and since it’s Nigel speaking, I’ll believe him.
Hot and Sticky Roast Quail – from Nigel Slater Serves 2 (if being a bit indulgent, or you could opt for 1 quail per person and serve 4 with this)
- 4 plump and juicy cloves garlic, crushed
- 1 tbsp groundnut oil (I swapped this for olive oil with a dash of sesame oil)
- 1 tsp ground cayenne pepper (I swapped this for spicy smoked paprika)
- 1⁄2 lemon, juice only
- 2 tbsp light soy sauce
- 1⁄2 tsp salt
- 4 tsp grainy mustard
- 4 oven-ready quail
- Preheat the oven to 220C/425F/Gas 7.
- Peel and crush the garlic, then mix with the oil, cayenne, lemon juice, soy, salt and mustard.
- Place the quail in a small roasting tin - they should not touch. Pour over the basting mixture so that the birds are soaked in it and some of it drizzles into the pan.
- Roast the quail for twenty to twenty-five minutes, basting once. They should go rather sticky. Quail can be served rare/medium rare without too much worry.