My darling boyfriend has become addicted to Chopped, and after a challenge with quail and fiddlehead ferns, he is begging for us to make quail. Can i just make it like a chicken?!
Just about! Quails are delectable little dudes, with rosy meat that’s sort of like the most tender chicken thighs you’ve ever sunk your teeth into. Unlike the larger Cornish game hens, which really are nothing more than adolescent domestic chickens, quails are just small enough that it’s totally cool to eat their miniature drumsticks with your fingers, even at the nice restaurants. (And they’re the California state bird—just lookit the plump little body on that guy!)
Cooking quail is sometimes a challenge because the birds are so teeny tiny, which heightens the risk of overcooking. The ever-knowledgeable Hank Shaw agrees with me that quails should be brined before roasting, since that helps keep them moist during their brief time under the heat. His simple (really!) recipe for brined roast quail is a great introduction—my rule of thumb on brining timing is about an hour per pound, so I’d keep the birds submerged for 4 hours maximum here.
If you love your boyfriend enough for a splurge, take him up to Joe Beef in Montreal and hope the quail in a foie gras reduction with wild mushrooms is on the menu that night (sadly, it’s not in their new cookbook)—or just buy a pair of birds and braise them in a hearty mushroom sauce for a still-special dinner.
In New York City, quality quail are available at Dickson’s Farmstand Meats in Chelsea Market, but better supermarkets nationwide like Whole Foods or Wegman’s can order them for you via the butcher department. Ask your butcher to spatchcock or halve each quail for the following recipe:
Braised Quail with Mushrooms
Prep time: 15 minutes
Total time: 1 hour
Makes 2 servings
- 2 quail, spatchcocked or halved
- kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 cups wild mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
- 1 large shallot, minced
- 1 large garlic clove, minced
- 1 cup beef stock (or stock made with veal demi-glace, my secret weapon)
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
- 1 lemon wedge
- 2 tablespoons minced flat-leaf parsley
Find a skillet or sauté pan that can comfortably fit both quail at the same time. Add the butter and oil and heat over medium-high heat until the butter is melted and bubbling.
Pat the quail dry and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add the quail to the pan and cook for 1-2 minutes per side until the skin is golden brown, then remove from the pan and set aside.
Add the mushrooms to the pan in a single layer and cook undisturbed for 3 minutes, then stir in the shallot and garlic clove. Cook for 30 seconds, stirring, then return the quail to the pan.
Add the beef stock and cream, and bring to a simmer. Cover and cook for 20-25 minutes. Stir in a squeeze of lemon juice and the minced parsley.
Serve with crusty bread for sopping up the awesome sauce.