Quail is an upland gamebird, which, according to Wikipedia is an American term that refers to “non-waterfowl birds hunted with pointing breeds, flushing spaniels, and retrievers.” However, if you’re not “game” for dashing through field and wood and pulling shot out of your prey, thankfully there are many choices today from your local gourmet shop or butcher.
Enter the coturnix quail originally from Europe and now widely farmed and readily accessible to both chef and home cook alike. This was precipitated by the drastic decline in the Northeast population (85 percent) between 1966 and 1985 of the bobwhite quail, largely due to habitation degradation. Quail come in various sizes and flavors, ranging from the mild, soft, and tiny coturnix to slightly larger and more flavorful bobwhite, still available in some shops. The coturnix is incredibly simple to cook, prepared much the same way as other poultry but different enough to warrant its own recipes. Most popular is the semi-boneless quail with many preparation choices, among them, sautéed, grilled, roasted, baked, and barbecued. Because the bird is so small, it is perfect for an appetizer or lunch entrée with greens. Serve two per person as a dinner portion with sides such as polenta, or sweet potatoes and a vegetable such as sautéed spinach or roasted Brussels sprouts, the perfect fall meal. It is important to note that these birds should not be served rare but slightly pink; beware do not overcook…tricky! That said they are almost impossible to ruin. The key is to cook them hot and fast; the smaller the bird the hotter the temperature.
Interesting fact: The coturnix, called Selav in Hebrew (plump one), is thought to have saved the Israelites from starvation while fleeing Egypt and wandering. They were low flying and easy to fatigue and easy to catch.
Tips: For crispier skin, air dry in fridge for 24 hours uncovered. Allow bird to come to room temp before cooking (about 45 minutes)
Lemon Rosemary Grilled Quail
4 to 8 semi-Boneless Quail
1 Cup diced yellow onions
3 Garlic cloves mashed
2 Sprigs rosemary
2 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Whole lemon juiced
½ Cup white wine
Salt & Pepper
♦ Sauté diced onions in medium sauté pan over medium heat till soft.
♦ Add garlic and rosemary and sauté about 2 minutes careful not to burn.
♦ Add wine and cook 3 to 4 minutes.
♦ Add lemon juice and salt and pepper.
♦ Grill quail on preheated grill for 5 to 7 minutes until juices run clear.
♦ Place on platter, pour sauce over, and serve. Can also be individually plated.
Roasted Quail with Cornbread,
Apple, and Pecan Stuffing
4 Semi-Boneless Quail, wing tips trimmed, rinsed, and patted dry.
Mixed Greens & balsamic vinaigrette, or Sautéed Brussels Sprouts with crispy pancetta
2 Granny Smith Apples, cored, one diced, and one sliced lengthwise
1 Carrot, peeled and diced
1 Celery stalk, diced
2 Shallots, diced
1 Cup crumbled corn bread
¼ Cup chicken stock
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 sprigs thyme
½ Cup pecans, lightly toasted, half roughly chopped
♦ Heat 1 teaspoon olive oil over medium heat in medium sauté pan.
♦ Add carrot, celery, shallots, diced apples and sauté until softened, about 5 minutes.
♦ Transfer to a bowl and add crumbled cornbread, chicken stock, melted butter, thyme, and pecans.
♦ Toss with hands and add coarse salt and ground pepper.
♦ Sprinkle the cavity of each quail with salt and pepper, then stuff a little bit of cornbread mixture inside, molding bird to its original shape.
♦ Season the outside with salt and pepper, cross legs and tie with kitchen string, tuck wings behind the back.
♦ Preheat oven to 450°F and place rack on the bottom.
♦ Optional: form sturdy folded aluminum rings and wrap each quail to hold its shape…nice touch but not necessary.
♦ Heat a large ovenproof sauté pan with 2 Tbsp of duck fat, or canola or olive oil.
♦ Sear the quail on all sides until golden brown for 4 to 6 minutes.
♦ Transfer to oven, skin side up and bake approximately 7 to 10 minutes basting twice until browned and cooked through. Juices should run clear.
♦ Rest for 3 to 4 minutes before serving.
MELODY TIERNEY is an avid foodie and has enjoyed sharing her passion with friends and family for many years. She and her husband, Phil, were also bed and breakfast owners in Southampton, New York, serving up a signature breakfast every morning. This and their gracious hospitality earned them Inn of the Month in Travel and Leisure magazine.