I feel I should tell you that this week, while rambling on about the bounty of autumn and the joy of wild damsons, I have also maintained a constant stream of good natured grumbles about the fact that, for this Londoner, the plums in question were actually bought at the local farmer’s market. In my defence I haven’t encountered any trees myself this year and, as I made clear in my nettle soup post, I personally find urban-foraging a wee bit grimy (I don’t think I need to state the operative word there…) It does, however, make me feel like a bit of a fraud talking about gluts of autumnal produce when I’m buying mine in neat, little punnets from a stall in Hampstead.
Then, to add insult to injury, my parents called a few days ago to gleefully inform me that they had picked bucket loads of perfect damsons and were now mulling over what to do with their hoard. I’m suitably reassured that they will be making jams, crumbles, clafoutis and that even the ice cream machine (one of my mother’s many impulse buys from her beloved Lidl that I am certain hasn’t ever seen the light of day) will be deployed to make some ‘froyo’, but I’m sure that there will be a whole lot left over. So, in a bid to minimise the threat of parental type 2 diabetes, soaring dental bills, brain freeze and other potentially sugary ailments, today I’m focusing on something a little more savoury.
Here, I took two perfect quail that I picked up from The Hampstead Butchers (possibly my favourite place in the world) and pan roasted them in foaming, nut-brown butter with a good sprig of rosemary and a couple of crushed garlic cloves. Once the quail was cooked and resting, I added a splash of sherry vinegar and a few spoonfuls of damson puree to the meat juices to make a simple, but deliciously tart, dressing. I tossed this through mixed red leaves dotted with tangy crescents of deep-purple pickled beets and crunchy slivers of golden beetroot, giving the whole dish a firmly autumnal feel. The slight sharpness of the pickles and the tart kick of the damson dressing offset the richness of the roasted birds beautifully. I really can’t think of a more luxurious and cosy autumn supper, or a more perfect way to use up a bucket (or measly punnet) of damsons!
Autumn Quail Salad with Damson and Beetroot
For the red salad leaves I used a mix of lollo rosso, red oak leaf and bulls blood, but any salad will work. I would avoid the more bitter leaves at the chicory end of the spectrum, but that’s just personal preference.
- 2 whole medium quail – spatchcocked and halved (ask your butcher/YouTube if unsure)
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 70g unsalted butter
- 1 sprig of rosemary
- 2 garlic cloves
- 2 tsp sherry vinegar
- 2 tbsp damson puree
- Mixed red salad leaves (enough for 2)
- 1 small golden beetroot
- 100g pickled beetroot
- salt and pepper
To spatchcock the quail, place it breast down on the board and cut along either side of the backbone to remove it. Turn the bird over and flatten by pushing down on the crown, before cutting in half along the breast bone. There are good YouTube videos demonstrating this if you are unsure.
Heat a heavy non-stick frying pan and add the olive oil. Season the quail on both sides liberally with salt and pepper and place skin side down in the pan. Brown the quail until the skin is a nicely golden colour and turn over. Once coloured on both sides add the butter and turn the heat down to medium so the butter foams gently (if the butter gets too hot it will burn and taste horrible). Gently crush the garlic cloves, skin on, with the back of a kitchen knife and add to the pan, along with the rosemary. Cook the quail for about 4 minutes per side (for pink, 6-8 minutes for more well done) occasionally basting with the foaming butter. Remove from the pan and leave to rest.
For the dressing, once you have removed the quail from the pan (ensuring that the pan is still warm) add the sherry vinegar and damson puree to the browned butter and stir well to combine. Season to taste.
Cut the pickled beetroot into segments and slice the golden beetroot thinly on a mandolin or with a sharp knife. Place in a large bowl along with the mixed salad leaves.
When ready to serve, pour the warm dressing over the salad and toss gently. Transfer to serving plates and place the quail on top.