- 4 quail
- Peanut or extra light olive oil, for deep frying
- Soba noodles, Asian greens and oyster mushrooms, to serve
- ½ cup (110g) yellow rock (or brown) sugar
- 150ml soy sauce
- Masterstock spice mix
- 2 whole star anise
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 1 tsp coriander seeds
- ½ tsp whole Sichuan pepper
- 3 cloves
- 2cm piece cinnamon quill
- 1 dried, long red chilli
- 1 piece dried mandarin or orange peel
To make the masterstock, tie the masterstock spice mix ingredients in a muslin sachet and place in a large saucepan with the sugar, soy sauce and two cups (500ml) boiling water. Simmer for one hour, then remove the sachet.
Increase the heat, add the quail to the stock and return to the boil. Simmer for 10-15 minutes, turning once halfway through. You may need to weight the quail down with a heavy saucer to keep them covered by the stock. Remove and drain completely. Pat dry with a paper towel.
Half-fill a heavy-based saucepan or wok with oil and heat to very hot (or you can heat the oil in a deep fryer). Plunge the quail into the oil and deep fry for three to five minutes until they are the colour of mahogany. (Alternatively, split the quail open down the back and cook on a barbecue for three minutes each side.)
Serve with soba noodles, stir-fried Asian greens and oyster mushrooms.
Prep time 10 minutes; cooking time 1 hour 20 minutes.
Cook's note After use, masterstock can be strained carefully then kept in the fridge and reused as long as it is boiled weekly. Over time you will need to add more soy and spices.
To drink This dish cries out for a pinot noir — supple, silky, aromatic and wonderful with spice but with soft tannins to cut through the richness of the deep frying.
Masterstock is one of the great recipes in Chinese cooking. Once made, you can have it on hand to transform the simplest evening meal — it is glorious to use when poaching whole chicken or even just breast fillets.
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