I love food that you can eat with your hands. With these quails, you can, I suppose, eat them with a knife and fork because they are almost boneless. But the bones you do leave in – in the legs and wings – cry out to be used as “handles” so you can pick the birds up with your fingers before biting into the meat.
Deboning a quail is easier to do than it is to describe. Once you’ve had some practice deboning a couple of birds, the rest should take you less than five minutes each. These quails are as good cold as they are when freshly cooked.
Panko is Japanese breadcrumbs, sold in packs. They are light and delicate, and give fried food a crunchy texture. If you don't have them, use regular dried breadcrumbs.
If the quails have any remaining feathers, remove them with tweezers. Put the birds breast-side down on the cutting board. Use poultry shears to cut along one side of the backbone, working from the neck to the tail. Turn the quail around, then cut along the other side of the backbone, removing it completely.
Weigh the deboned quails together and divide the weight by 100 – this is the amount of salt you will need. Weigh out the appropriate amount salt, then mix it with the shichimi togarashi. Place the quails skin-side down on a work surface and sprinkle the salt/shichimi togarashi mixture evenly over the flesh.
Use a fine rasp-type grater (such as a Microplane) to grate the orange zest over the fleshy sides of the quails, then spread it evenly over the birds. Stack the quails, skin-side up, in a bowl and refrigerate for about three hours (longer is fine).
Put some flour in a wide flat dish (I use cake or pie pans), two whisked eggs in another and the panko or breadcrumbs in a third. Pour cooking oil to the depth of about 2cm (⅞in) in a skillet and heat over a medium flame to 180°C (350°F).
While the oil is heating, cut the quails lengthwise down the middle of the breast, so each piece has a leg, wing and half a breast. Dredge the quail in the flour and shake off the excess, then dip it in the beaten egg to lightly coat it. Dredge the quail in the panko so it is evenly coated, pressing down so the breadcrumbs adhere.
Place the birds skin side-down in the hot oil. Fry the quails in batches – four to six pieces at a time (do not crowd the skillet) – until deep golden brown on one side, then flip them over and fry the other side. Fry them for four to five minutes in total, then drain on paper towels. Serve them hot, warm or cold.