Saturday, October 29, 2011

Stuffed Quail - A Harvest Treat

In the Autumn treat your dinner guests to these mid-sized birds from the pheasant family.  They can be prepared in many ways and as they are not all that common on dinner tables, they appear during this harvest season as a special treat.

The Quail Hunt
Francisco de Goya,  1775
 Prado Museum, Madrid
Quail have been used as a food since ancient times.  A friend of mine tells me that, according to the Bible, the Israelites were said to have had quail while in the desert.  Native Americans were also known to have utilized Bob White quail for food.  In 1557, Hernando DeSoto’s expedition reportedly received a gift of wild turkeys and Bob White quail at a Native American village in what is now Georgia.  As European immigrants to the New World carved small farms from vast forests, quail became a common meal for these settlers. Markets developed and hunting and trapping of quail were practiced from the early 1800s to the early 1900s.   In 1931 it became the California state bird, that state having its own species known as the California or valley quail. 

If when purchasing your quail you have a choice of species, select Pharaoh or Coturnix quail instead of the traditional wild birds like the Bob White or Plumed Quail.   These preferred species are more naturally disease resistant than wild bird species allowing the farmer to grow them with no antibiotics. They also mature much faster allowing them to grow them without the use of growth hormones. They are also all dark meat birds which stay more moist when cooking.

Julian's quail, stuffed and ready for the oven.
I prefer to purchase my quail already partially boned.  When you purchase semi-boneless quail they have removed all bones except the drummette of the leg and the wing bones. This “sleeve boned” product sometimes comes with stainless steel grill pins to hold open the body cavity to make stuffing easy, although this is not required.

If you can't find them locally, there are several good online sources including Manchester Farms and D'Artagnan.  Quail have become so common you can even order them from Amazon

In the Fall, I prefer to prepare the birds stuffed as shown in these photos.  I typically push the breast meat to the bottom and stuff on top of it but beneath the skin.  This technique also keeps the tender breast meat moist.  As there is not all that much meat no quail, I typically use a stuffing that contains some pre-cooked sage sausage.  You can use either a bread dressing or rice for the stuffing being sure to add classic vegetables like onion, carrot and celery, along with your favorite seasonings. Tuck the wings under then truss the birds for roasting.  If I'm making a sauce for the quail, I don't bother with pan frying to quickly brown the skin before roasting, but you can do this for presentation purposes if you prefer. In the roasting pan, I place the quail on a rack for good air circulation in the oven and roast at 400F.   If I'm having a multi-course dinner, I use just one per person knowing that they will be having other courses.  If you are preparing just a three-course dinner (salad, main course, dessert) you'll want to serve two stuffed birds per person.


If you still have the grill out, you can also cook your quail using this technique.

Clip and discard the last two segments of both wing tips on the quail, as they will burn on the grill. Rinse the quail under cold running water and pat dry. Place the quail in a large bowl with the olive oil, garlic, thyme, sage, and parsley. Toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate for at least two hour or up to overnight.

Preheat the grill to medium-high heat (350-400 degrees).

Remove quail from the refrigerator and marinate at room temperature for 20 minutes.  Remove the quail from the marinade and season both sides with salt and pepper.

Place quail on the grill and cook for 5 to 7 minutes on each side or until golden brown and cook through. (Do not overcook.) Remove the quail from the grill and set aside to keep warm until ready to serve.  These can be cooked full bone-in (instead of semi-boneless) which makes the meat more flavorful.

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