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?!
Well, sort of! Quail 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, quail 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 cookbook).
Or you can just buy a quartet of quail and braise them in a hearty mushroom sauce yourself. Because what says true love like a whole casserole dish of tiny braised birds in cream sauce?
Braised quail takes a lot of the guesswork out of overcooking, since the point of braising is to submerge your main ingredient into rich, bubbling liquid so that it slowly cooks and absorbs flavor, instead of being blasted with hot air.
And the recipe that follows for braised quail with mushrooms gives you an incredibly rich pan sauce, with just a touch of cream at the end to seal the deal.
You can order quail online through D’Artagnan or Fossil Farms, or talk to your local butcher. Good supermarkets nationwide like Whole Foods or Wegman’s can also order them for you via the meat department.
Buy semi-boneless quail or ask your butcher to spatchcock each quail for the following recipe.
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
- 4 quail, spatchcocked or semi-boneless
- kosher salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- 1 pound mixed wild mushrooms, cleaned and thinly sliced
- 1 large shallot, finely chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 1/4 cups beef stock
- 1/4 cup heavy cream or half and half
- minced flat-leaf parsley
- Heat the olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter in a wide sauté pan or skillet 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, breast side down. Cook until browned, about 2-3 minutes, then remove from the pan and set aside.
- Add the mushrooms to the pan in a single layer and cook undisturbed for 3-4 minutes so they can develop a nice, crispy browned texture.
- Stir in a pinch of kosher salt and continue to cook, stirring every 3-4 minutes, until the mushrooms are deeply browned and reduced in volume.
- Stir in the remaining 1 tablespoon butter, along with the shallot and garlic, and cook for 30 seconds more.
- Return the quail to the pan.
- Add the beef stock and bring to a simmer.
- Reduce the heat to medium low, cover, and cook for 20-25 minutes, until the sauce has darkened and thickened slightly.
- Uncover and add the cream. Cook, uncovered, for 5-8 minutes more until the sauce thickens once more.
- Sprinkle with minced parsley and serve.