This simple, celestial meal with these delicate little birds which cook quickly and absorb flavours so beautifully. A favourite accompaniment is often vibrant, peppery wild watercress with an astringent vinaigrette, made simply with lots of lemon juice, salt, pepper and enough double cream to add a voluptuousness and pungency to tickle the flavour perfectly out of the watercress and quails. And last but not least is a mound of silky, buttery mashed potato or hunk of crusty bread is essential to absorb every last trace of tasty juices.
8 fresh or tinned vine leaves
4 thin slices of barding fat or very streaky bacon
150ml chicken stock or water
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons Cognac or Armagnac
1 large sprig of thyme
1 carrot coarsely chopped
1 shallot, coarsely chopped
200g white or black seedless grapes, peeled
1 large glass red wine, preferably Burgundy
Preheat the oven to 180C
Lightly salt the quails then wrap each one in vine leaves then a thin slice of fat/bacon and secure loosely with trussing string.
Heat the oil in a sauté pan until fairly hot, put in the quails and seal for 2 or 3 minutes until golden on all sides. Add the carrot, shallot and thyme.
Pour the Cognac over the birds and ignite them before placing in the oven for 20 minutes.
Remove the quails from the oven, put the quails, breast side down, on a serving dish and cover loosely with foil.
Place the sauté pan over a medium heat and deglaze the pan with the red wine.
Reduce by half before adding the chicken stock or water. Reduce by two-thirds until the sauce is the consistency of syrup, lightly coating the back of a spoon.
Pass the sauce through a conical sieve into a saucepan and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Take the pan off the heat and beat in the butter before adding the grapes. Gently reheat for a couple of minutes, taking care not to boil.
Carefully remove the string from each of the quails. Place on serving plates, carefully laying the fat and vine leaves alongside.
Pour a little sauce and grapes over each bird, the remainder to be served in a jug at the table