Mark Hix recipe: Baked Quails' Eggs, Trotter and Bacon

Serves 6 as a starter
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I thought I hadn't seen this on the St John menu before, but Fergus assures me it's an old friend.

6 quails' eggs
1 pig's trotter
1 large onion, peeled, halved and finely chopped
2ltrs chicken stock
30g lard
200g piece of smoked streaky bacon or pancetta, cut into 1cm cubes
8 shallots, peeled and quartered
8 small cloves of garlic, peeled
1 large head of fennel, trimmed, quartered and thinly sliced
The leaves from a few sprigs of thyme
10 sage leaves, finely chopped
2 bay leaves
150ml Madeira
4 large, ripe plum tomatoes, cut into small dice
Sea salt and black pepper
2tbsp chopped parsley

Put the pig's trotter in a saucepan with the onion and chicken stock, season, bring to the boil and simmer gently with a lid on for a couple of hours, or until the flesh is soft and coming away from the bone. Remove the trotter and put to one side to cool and continue boiling the stock until it has reduced by two-thirds.

Meanwhile, heat the lard in a heavy-based saucepan and cook the bacon on a medium heat until it's nicely browned. Add the shallots, garlic, fennel, bay leaves, thyme and sage and continue cooking for a few minutes until they soften.

At this stage there will be a healthy caramelisation on the bottom of the pan. Turn up the heat slightly and add the Madeira, scraping the goodness off the bottom of the pan as you do so.

Meanwhile, remove all of the flesh and soft skin from the trotter, discard the bones and cut the remaining flesh into rough 1cm cubes and add to the bacon and shallot mixture with the stock and tomatoes. Continue simmering for about 30 minutes until the mixture has thickened, then season to taste, if necessary, and stir in the parsley.

Preheat the oven to 175C/gas mark 4. Ladle your hot trotter mix into ramekins, put the ramekins on a baking tray and carefully crack a quail's egg on to the top and bake in the oven until the eggs have just set.