Quails might not be associated with Christmas in the same way that turkeys (or partridges, for that matter!) are, but I think they make a nice change… they also take a lot less time to cook!

The stuffing – chestnuts, sage, Armagnac soaked prunes, and red Camargue rice – is my idea of pure winter decadence, sweet, nutty, herbal, rich, fruity, savoury, and boozy all at once. This recipe is for more stuffing than is necessary just to fill the quails, so as you can roast the excess in balls, and serve these alongside.


(Serves 4)

  • 4 jumbo quails
  • 4 slices of prosciutto crudo

For the stuffing

  • 100g prunes
  • 1 tea bag of black tea
  • 6 tablespoons of Armagnac or another brandy
  • 1 tablespoon of caster sugar
  • ½ cup red Camargue rice (substitute a white long grain rice if you’d prefer)
  • 500ml light chicken stock
  • 100g unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil for frying
  • 1 small brown onion – finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves – crushed
  • 12 sage leaves
  • 1 thick slice of stale sourdough bread
  • 8 chestnuts – cooked and peeled (or use the pre-cooked vacuum-packed sort)
  • Juice of ½ a lemon
  • Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoon of additional olive oil

You can make the stuffing a day in advance if you wish to cut down on Christmas day tasks…

To begin: soak the prunes in a small bowl of freshly brewed black tea. Leave stand to absorb the tea for up to 4 hours.

After this time, drain the prunes from the tea and add them to a small saucepan along with 2 tablespoons of water, half the Armagnac, and the caster sugar. Bring to a simmer, over a low heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Continue to simmer gently for 10 minutes, then remove from the heat and put aside until needed.

Meanwhile, boil the Camargue rice in 300ml of the chicken stock (reserving the remaining 200ml) for approx. 30 minutes or until cooked through. Drain the rice once cooked, then return it to the pot, and set aside until needed.

Next, heat half the butter, along with 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook gently aiming to soften, but not significantly colour it, for around 5 minutes. Then, add the garlic and continue to cook gently, stirring to ensure that it doesn’t burn or stick, for a further 2 minutes.

Tear the stale sourdough into rough chunks, and then place these in a food processor. Blitz to achieve a large crumb.

To assemble the stuffing: Add the sourdough breadcrumbs, along with the fried onion and garlic to the cooked rice. Drain the prunes (reserving the excess liquid as we’ll use this later to make a light gravy), then chop these into small cubes, and add also to the stuffing mixture. Roughly tear the sage leaves, and mix these through the mixture as well. Then finally, crumble in the cooked chestnuts, varying the size of the pieces as you crumble.

Season the stuffing with salt and pepper, then squeeze in the juice of half a lemon. It’s worth doing a taste-test and adjusting accordingly… if you want to add more sage, more chestnuts, etc., adapt to suit your taste.

Lastly, dot the remaining 50g of softened butter through the stuffing, and mix with a spoon, and refrigerate until needed.

When you are ready to cook, preheat the oven to 210°C.

Prepare the quails by washing the cavities out with a little water, then pat dry all-over, inside and out, with kitchen paper.

Season with salt and pepper, then rub a little bit of olive oil over the outer skin as this will help it to crisp.

Next, fill the quails with loosely-packed stuffing, then use a toothpick to fasten the crossed drumsticks closed, sealing the stuffing inside.

Now, drape a slice of prosciutto crudo over each quail, and tuck this underneath at the edges.

Roll the extra stuffing mixture into little balls, and pop these into a separate baking tray, ready to cook alongside.

Pour the remaining 200ml of chicken stock into the base of the baking tray containing the quails, and roast both the quails and extra stuffing mix, uncovered for 25-30 minutes, until crisp and golden. (If your quails are particularly small, as opposed to ‘jumbo’ sort, they’ll cook a lot more quickly than this, so adapt cooking time accordingly). 

Once cooked, remove the birds to a warmed dish and leave to rest loosely covered with aluminium foil while you make a quick gravy.

Place the baking tray directly over a medium-high heat, and de-glaze with the remaining 3 tablespoons of Armagnac along with the poaching liquid reserved earlier from the prunes. Scrape the base of the tray with a wooden spoon as the liquid reduces – around 3 minutes or until slightly thickened.

Place the quails on individual plates to serve, then spoon the warm gravy over top. Roast stuffing balls also appreciate a bit of gravy if you have enough to go around!