The holy quail
Flavourful, easy to prepare and fabulous looking - this bird has it all
Text Susan Jung / Photography Jonathan Wong / Styling Nellie Ming Lee
I love quails. Because the birds are all dark meat, they have a lot of flavour. They're easy to prepare (even when, as with these recipes, they're semi-boned), cook quickly (in less than 10 minutes) and look attractive on a plate. It's fairly easy to guesstimate how many quails you'll need per person - for normal-size appetites, count on one bird each, although often I make a couple extra, in case my guests are very hungry.
Quails with fingerling potatoes and Brussels sprouts (pictured)
4 quails, thawed, if frozen
400 grams fingerling potatoes
80 grams unsalted butter
4 shallots, halved then sliced
200ml unsalted chicken stock, preferably home-made
300-400 grams Brussels sprouts
1-2 thyme sprigs, leaves only
Oil, for pan-frying the quails
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Put each quail back-side up on a cutting board. Cut each bird on one side of the backbone, then cut along the other side, to remove it completely (I save all the bones to make stock). Cut off the wing tips, but leave the middle and drumette joint intact. If the bird has its head, remove that and the neck.
Lay the bird, skin-side up, on the cutting board and press on it firmly with your hand to crack the bones. Flip it over and start removing the bones. The backbones can be removed simply by pulling them out; with the breast, wishbone and shoulder, you need to use a paring knife to scrape off the meat, then pull out the bones. Leave the wing bones and the leg (thigh and drumstick) bones intact. Sprinkle salt lightly over the meat and skin of the birds.
Scrub the potatoes but leave the skin on. Put them in a pot and add enough salted water to cover them by about 1.5cm. Bring to the boil then lower the heat and simmer until the potatoes are just tender; do not overcook. Drain them, rinse with cold water and drain again. Slice the potatoes into rounds about 3mm thick.
Rinse the Brussels sprouts, then remove as many of the outer leaves as possible, stopping when you get to the interior, where the leaves are very tightly packed around the core. Set aside the outer leaves; cut the rest of the sprouts in half. Bring a pot of salted water to the boil, add the halved sprouts and blanch for one minute. Drain, rinse with cold water, then drain again.
Heat a skillet (preferably cast-iron) over a medium-high flame and oil it lightly. When the skillet is very hot, place the quails skin-side down in the pan and cook for about a minute, or until lightly seared. Turn them over and sear the other side. Put the quails on a plate.
Put the butter in a skillet large enough to hold all the quails in one layer (or you can use four individual serving pans, dividing the ingredients between them). When the butter is half-melted, add the shallot and cook until it starts to soften, stirring often. Add the halved Brussels sprouts, season lightly with salt, then cook for about a minute, stirring often. Add the potatoes, season lightly with salt, then stir gently, trying to keep the slices intact. Shake the skillet so the potatoes and sprouts cover the bottom of the pan in an even layer, then sprinkle with pepper. Add the chicken stock and bring to the boil, then place the quails, skin-side up, in the skillet. Scatter the outer leaves of the Brussels sprouts in the pan and add the thyme leaves. Cover the pan with the lid, lower the heat and simmer for about four minutes. Uncover the pan and add the cream. Increase the heat and simmer without stirring until the cream thickens enough to lightly coat the ingredients and the quails are cooked to your liking. Serves three or four.
Grilled lemongrass quails
4 quails, thawed, if frozen
2 garlic cloves
2 lemongrass stalks, juicy core only
1 red bird's-eye chilli, seeds removed
80ml bottled fish sauce
20ml fresh lime juice
15 grams honey
Freshly ground black pepper
Oil, for the grill
Prepare the quails as in the first recipe, removing the backbone, wing tips, head and neck, breast bones, shoulder bones and wishbones. Cut the semi-boned quails in half then put them in a bowl.
Roughly chop the garlic, lemongrass and chilli, put the ingredients in a mortar and pound to a paste. Mix in the fish sauce, lime juice, honey and salt and pepper. Pour this mixture over the quails and mix thoroughly to combine. Leave at room temperature for about two hours (or in the fridge for longer), mixing occasionally so the birds marinate evenly.
If the birds were refrigerated, leave them at room temperature for about 30 minutes before cooking them.
Heat a grill and oil the racks (or use a cast-iron grill pan set over a medium-high flame). Place the quail pieces, skin-side down, on the hot grill racks. Cook until the skin is slightly charred then turn them over and cook the other side. The quails take only three to five minutes to cook. These are delicious eaten hot, cold and at room temperature.