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Quail tandoori

Serves: 4

Cooking time: 2.5 hours

Difficulty: Intermediate

Difficulty

For the quails:

  • 8 whole boneless quails
  • salt and freshly ground pepper
For the marinade:
  • 6 green cardamom pods, lightly crushed
  • 3-4 blades mace, broken into pieces
  • 100g almonds, skinned
  • 1 tbsp ginger and garlic paste
  • 1-2 fresh green chillies, coarsely chopped
  • 150-200ml thick Greek yoghurt
  • 2-3 tbsp extra virgin rapeseed oil
  • 100g mature cheddar cheese, grated
  • 125ml double cream
For serving:
  • Green salad
  • Lime halves
  • Warm naan bread

When Cyrus Todiwala of Cafe Spicé Namaste was growing up in Rajasthan, it was normal to buy live wild quail, grouse and partridge in the local markets, and the habit continues to this day. Often the birds would be taken home and fattened up before being prepared for the table, and this quiet time allowed the stressed muscles to relax, making the flesh more tender. Most of the time the birds ended up in a hot red masala, then were either quickly grilled or slowly stewed for hours.

Present-day farmed birds are plump and ready to eat, which allows the use of more delicate marinades, like the one given below. It is rich and creamy with just a hint of spice. Several items in the ingredients list need to be marinated and/or rested before use, so do allow for this in your preparation time.

1. Preheat the oven to 150°C/300°F/Gas Mark 2.

2. Skin the quails, trim off any gristle or sinew and chop each bird into 4 pieces. Place in a dish, rub with salt and pepper, then cover and chill until the marinade is ready.

3. Put the cardamom pods and mace on a baking tray. Place in the hot oven, switch off the heat and leave inside for 30 minutes. Set aside to cool and crisp up.

4. Meanwhile, put the almonds in a bowl, cover with warm water and leave to soften for 10–15 minutes. Drain, reserving the soaking water, and pat dry with kitchen paper.

5. Put the cardamom and mace in a blender along with the almonds, ginger and garlic Paste, green chillies, yoghurt, oil, cheese and some of the reserved almond water. Pur.e to a fine paste, then blend in the cream.

6. Drain any water out of the quail dish, then add the marinade to the meat a bit at a time, until every piece is well coated. Cover and chill for up to 8 hours, but no less than 2. Any leftover marinade can be saved for another recipe – simply store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Alternatively, use it to marinate some chicken legs along with the quail meat.

7. When you’re ready to start cooking, heat the grill until medium hot. Thread the meat onto metal or presoaked bamboo skewers, or place on a rack with a drip tray underneath, and grill for about 4–5 minutes, until well coloured on one side. Turn and cook the other side for about 4–5 minutes, until the meat is cooked through (check by piercing a thin knife into the meat near the bone. If the juices run red, cook for a few more minutes and then try again).

8. Serve with a green salad, lime halves to squeeze over and some warm naan.

9. For an excellent rice accompaniment to this dish, mix piping-hot boiled rice with nuts and sultanas that have been lightly fried in butter, then blend in a beaten egg and season.

Ingredients

For the quails:

  • 8 whole boneless quails
  • salt and freshly ground pepper
For the marinade:
  • 6 green cardamom pods, lightly crushed
  • 3-4 blades mace, broken into pieces
  • 100g almonds, skinned
  • 1 tbsp ginger and garlic paste
  • 1-2 fresh green chillies, coarsely chopped
  • 150-200ml thick Greek yoghurt
  • 2-3 tbsp extra virgin rapeseed oil
  • 100g mature cheddar cheese, grated
  • 125ml double cream
For serving:
  • Green salad
  • Lime halves
  • Warm naan bread

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