It is Thanksgiving morning as I write this post. Soon I will be preparing the largest bird common to American kitchens, so I thought it appropriate that I write about the smallest commonly found edible bird, the quail, which among other things, is the state bird of California.
Quail are delicious. If you buy them cleaned, they typically run around 4 oz. If you get them at a regular market, you will very likely pay through the nose for them, maybe as much as $8 each. If you have an Asian market nearby, they will be much cheaper, around $4 each. However, if you buy them online in quantity, you can get them for $2 each! I suggest that you get together with a couple of friends and buy a box of 50. They will keep frozen for months. One bird makes for a great first course, two for a main course.
Although quail can be cooked whole, they are often cooked partially deboned with the rib cage removed. Once you get the hang of it, it takes no more than 2 minutes to debone a quail. If you go online, you will find several videos that show you how to do it, including one from Jacques Pepin (I think his method is more difficult than others.), If you don't want to debone the quail, you can just split it in half lengthwise and roast it in a 375° oven for 15 minutes, followed by 10 minutes at 425°. If you do debone your quail, you can stuff it with a dressing. Google "quail stuffing" and you will find dozens of suitable recipes.
This recipe is from Jean-Georges Vongerichten, one of the most innovative chefs in my opinion. If you ever had a meal in one of his "Pinot" restaurants, you know what I mean. Unlike many of his recipes, this one is très simple. Jean-Georges serves it with a watercress salad. If you are doing it for a main course, I suggest accompanying it with wild rice.
8 Quail, rib cage removed
1 Cup Soy sauce
1 Cup Water
4 Shallots, minced
1/4 Cup Rice wine vinegar
2 Tsp Five-spice powder
2 Tbs Light brown sugar
1 Tbs Garlic, minced or pressed
1 Tbs Fresh gionger, minced
1 Tsp Black pepper
2 Tbs Canola or peanut oil
2 Tbs Chopped parsley for garnish
In a medium saucepan, combine the soy sauce with the water, shallots, rice vinegar, five-spice powder, brown sugar, ginger, garlic and pepper. Simmer over moderately high heat for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cool to room temperature, then strain the sauce into a large bowl. Add the quail and turn to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 3 hours or overnight. Bring to room temperature before proceeding.
Remove the quail from the marinade and pat dry. Heat the oil in a large skillet. Add the quail and cook over high heat until the skin is browned and the meat is rare, turning the birds to sear them evenly on all sides. This process should take no more than 10 minutes. Serve whole or cut in half lengthwise sprinkled with chopped parsley.
As noted above, you can cook the quail in an oven. You can also get great results on the grill or BBQ. Any way you do it, it takes but a few mionutes to make the marinade and only 10 -15 minutes to cook the little fellas. A big return for a small investment.