quail with ras el hanout

A Nigel Slater recipe, this. It made me think that, all things considered, I would actually quite like to have Nigel Slater’s life.

No, really.

Of course, I don’t really want to be Nigel, with his strange childhood and his slightly awkward manner. But I can’t help thinking that his life, his day to day existence that most of us spend on crowded trains and in air-conditioned offices, would actually be really rather pleasant.

In my head, in Nigel’s life it’s usually winter. Proper winter of snow and wooly coats and jumpers, rather than the pointless, wet and mild winters of north London that he endures with the rest of us. The garden is covered in frost. Nigel wakes up early - he is no slacker, I reckon - and goes downstairs to his big white kitchen for a pot of proper espresso and maybe a croissant. The kitchen is, I think, all stripped wooden surfaces, with a bit of marble here and there, and cabinets painted white, with Kitchen-aids and Magimixes artfully exposed. No ostentatious displays of wealth, and nothing fancy, frilly or chintzy abut the place.

He goes back upstairs with another cup of coffee, and writes a little. Maybe he has had a wander around the garden too, and a quiet think on the bench at the bottom behind the gate.

Mid-morning, he goes out shopping. Not to the local supermarket, with screaming children and women loading sliced white and crisps into enormous trolleys. No, he’ll go down the road to La Fromagerie for some cheese and crème fraiche, and maybe the odd sausage or two, then to the butcher’s on top of Highbury Fields. A veg shop, and maybe a pastry from somewhere nice.

Then he’ll go home and cook lunch, making something he is thinking of including in a new book. Obviously, in my head, his recipes come out perfect every time, and no time is spent making the same thing over and over again until you’re sick of the sight of the bloody thing. And, though Nigel lives alone, and likes the solitude (thank you very much), he actually always has people round for lunch.

So they eat lunch around a big kitchen table, looking on to the garden, and, at the end, someone offers to stack the dishwasher and tidy up, before more coffee is brewed.

In the after non, alone again, Nigel does a bit more writing. He also talks to his agent, or suppliers, or his book people. He replies to a few emails, popping down to the kitchen every now and again, to stand in his stockinged feet on one leg in front of the fridge, absent-mindedly snacking on whatever is there - a piece of leftover ham, a chicken leg or a piece of fruit. Though I think he doesn’t actually eat a lot, somehow.

And then in the evening, more people and more cooking, and a bottle of wine.

I’m sure his life is actually nothing like this at all, and he’s probably stupidly busy and certainly doesn’t have time to go to five different shops every day. But the idea that pottering about, cooking, gardening and eating, while also seeing enough people and being sociable, actually constitutes gainful employment is just amazing to me and fills me with visceral envy. The truth is, I think if I had to spend every day in the kitchen - not cheffing, mind, just cooking - and have someone eat the proceeds with me, I’d be very happy.

As for the recipe - it uses ras el hanout, the Moroccan spice made with rose petals. Which sounds weird but isn’t. To continue the middle-Eastern theme, we ate it with baba ghanoush topped with toasted pine nuts, roasted red peppers and slow-roast tomatoes. Lovely.

For two

4 quail
1 large clove of garlic
1 heaped tbs ras el hanout
3-4 tbs olive oil
Salt and pepper

First, spatchcock the quail. I cut through the backbone with a pair of sturdy scissors but you can of course do it with a sharp knife. Once done, place the quail breast side up on the chopping board and squish with the back of your hand. You’re trying to flatten the bird to speed up the cooking time on the griddle pan (of course, this would be perfect on a barbecue).

Now mix the finely chopped garlic with a bit of salt, the ras el hanout and the olive oil into a paste. Spread this mix thoroughly all over the quail with your hands, and then leave it to marinade for a couple of hours (I left it overnight).

When you’re ready to cook, heat the griddle pan, and whack on the quail - we could fit all four on in one go - for about 10 minutes each side. It might need longer, depending on how big it is and how much you’re managed to flatten in (I didn’t do a very good job). The juices have to run clear.


  1. Nigel's typical day might include strolling over the hill to Camberwell, to deliver some little cakes to enjoy with a cuppa. While he's here, I'd share one of Jan's recipes (perhaps the spicy haddock with watercress salsa) and see if that would turn up in his next book. See you later, Nigel. Mine's a madeleine :)

  2. no cakes! :) could do you some meaty goodies though...

  3. You really should share this with Nigel and get a response! Or would that shatter the illusion...


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