This is a great dinner party dish that will surprise your guests. They will think they are being served regular roasted quails, but when they cut the birds in half, they will realise that most of the bones have been removed.
I have to warn you that the recipe is a little more involved than usual, because it requires you to tunnel-bone the quails – remove most of the bones without cutting into the skin, leaving the meat and skin as a casing for the stuffing. But although it takes some time, it’s far easier done than said, because many of the quail bones are so thin and delicate, you can just pull them out with your fingers. In fact, a knife is required only at the beginning and end of the process, when you have to cut the tendons holding some of the larger bones in place.
Tunnel-boned quails with Chinese sausage stuffing and quail eggs
The first time you tunnel-bone a quail, it will take a bit of time, but after you have done a few, the subsequent ones will take 10 minutes or less. As you start to pull the bones out, the bird will turn itself inside out; when you finish, just turn it right-side out again. The only bones left in the quail will be the ones in the legs, thigh and wings. There should not be any cuts or tears in the flesh and skin.
When most people hear “Chinese sausage” they think of air-dried sausages such as lap cheong and yuen cheong (liver sausage), but there are many types, both fresh and dried. This one is based on a taste memory of the sausages my grandmother used to make; she stuffed the meat mixture into pork casings, which are difficult to find in Hong Kong.
I like to wrap the sausage mixture around a hard-boiled quail egg, so when you cut the bird in half to eat it, it’s another surprise. If you want to leave out the quail eggs, you’ll need to double the amount of stuffing, and you’ll have enough for five birds, not four.
You only need four quail eggs to stuff into the birds, but they can be difficult to peel, so I make extra. The leftover boiled eggs make a nice snack, especially if you dip them in a little celery salt.
I usually serve one quail per person, but if your guests are hearty eaters, you might want to double the recipe and serve two each.
4 quails, about 180 grams (6 3/8 oz) each, thawed, if frozen
10 quail eggs
200 grams (7 oz) minced pork
10ml (2 tsp) soy sauce
10ml (2 tsp) rice wine
15 grams (1 tbsp) oyster sauce
½ tsp granulated sugar
1/8 tsp fine sea salt, plus extra for the quail eggs
1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper
¼ tsp sesame oil
½ tsp cornstarch
1 water chestnut
A few sprigs fresh coriander
1-2 spring onions
Oil, as necessary
1 Prepare the quail. Use tweezers to pluck out any pinfeathers left in the birds. Position a quail on the cutting board with the neck end facing you. If part of the neck is still attached, cut it off with a sharp knife, to reveal a small cavity. Feel around in the neck-end cavity for the wishbone, then use your fingertips to pull/scrape away any meat and membranes attached to it.
Snap off the wishbone where it’s attached to the carcass and pull it out. Feel around in the cavity for the shoulder bones and again use your fingertips to pull/scrape away the meat attached to the bones. Use the tip of a paring knife to cut the tendons holding the shoulder bones to the wings. Pull the shoulder bones out of the cavity. Feel for the breast bone and use your fingertips to scrape the flesh away, working carefully where the two sides of the breastbone meet, because the flesh is very thin and you don’t want to tear it.
After detaching all the meat from the breastbone, pull the bones from the cavity, then flip the bird over and work on the back. Feel for the rib bones, detaching them from the meat and pulling them out. Work your way down the back until you get to the point where the thigh bone is attached. Use the paring knife to cut the tendon that connects the thigh bone to the back.
The bird will be turned inside out at this point; carefully cut off the backbone where it meets the tail, taking care not to cut into the flesh and skin. Feel the flesh for any bones you might have missed. Turn the birds right-side out then refrigerate until needed. (The quail bones can be frozen, then mixed with leftover chicken bones to make soup stock.)
Susan Jung’s recipe for salted Scotch quail eggs
2 Put the quail eggs in a saucepan that is just large enough to hold them in one layer, then pour in room-temperature water to cover the eggs by 2cm (7/8 inch). Add two teaspoons of salt, then place the pan over a medium flame. Bring to the boil and stir once, then lower the heat and simmer for one minute. Drain the eggs and rinse for a minute under cool running water, then drain again. Place the eggs in a bowl of iced water and leave to chill.
3 Put the minced pork in a bowl and add the soy sauce, rice wine, oyster sauce, sugar, pepper, sesame oil, cornstarch and 1/8 tsp of fine sea salt. Mix thoroughly. Peel the water chestnut and rinse it well, then roughly chop it and the fresh coriander before adding to the bowl. Mince the spring onion, add it to the other ingredients, then combine well.
4 Peel the quail eggs. Crack the shells all over, then poke the tip of the paring knife into the large end of each egg. Peel each egg starting at the large end – there’s often an air bubble there and if you break the membrane under the shell, it should peel away more easily. Dry the eggs with paper towels.
5 Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius (390 degrees Fahrenheit).