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Originally published Saturday, October 6, 2012 at 7:00 AM

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Quail: Chicken for nibblers

City Kitchen: If you can roast a chicken, roasting a quail is absolutely no problem, and it is ready in half the time. Married with grapes, a burnished quail is extraordinarily aromatic. Recipe: Quail and Grapes

The New York Times

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Most people I know happily order quails in a restaurant but rarely think of cooking them at home.

I often wonder why, because nothing could be easier. If you can roast a chicken, roasting a quail is no problem, and it is ready in half the time.

But there are more compelling reasons than ease and speed. Flavor, for one. Farm-raised quails are delicious, more deeply flavored than most chickens, with a firm texture and an assertive taste but not gamy.

And they're more fun to eat than wings. A quail's small size fairly demands it be eaten with fingers. Even if you do go at it with a knife and fork, there comes a point when nibbling the bones is the most natural thing to do.

You may have to do a little hunting. Many supermarkets carry quails, as do specialty butcher shops and farmers' markets, but it can sometimes be necessary to order them a few days ahead. Fresh birds, of course, are preferable to frozen.

Quails are quite versatile and can proudly wear the flavors of all regions of the globe, from rustic elemental Mediterranean to complexly spiced Asian. Smaller, leaner quails are good battered and fried Southern style. For roasted quails, look for the plump "jumbos" that weigh 4 to 5 ounces. They have a little more fat, which prevents them drying out in the oven. In any case, it's wise to season or marinade them at least an hour before cooking.

Although a month ago I may have chosen to make spicy roast quail with corn and peppers, now is the time to feature glorious, colorful table grapes.

Roasting grapes is a great way to show off their fruity succulence. Just 10 minutes in a hot oven is enough to amplify the juices; eating them warm from the stem feels rather decadent. Any variety of table grape can be used. I used three kinds from the farmers' market, including local Concord grapes.

In fact, everything in this dish is roasted, and it's a sight to behold: the burnished quail, the clusters of beautiful grapes and the sweet red onions. Not to mention, extraordinarily aromatic and, dare I say, finger-licking good.

QUAIL AND GRAPES

Time: About 40 minutes, plus 1 hour marinating

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

6 jumbo quails, about 4 to 5 ounces each

Salt and pepper

1 ½ teaspoons grated garlic

6 large rosemary sprigs, plus ½ teaspoon chopped

6 large thyme sprigs, plus ½ teaspoon chopped

2 tablespoons olive oil

6 small red boiling onions (about ½ pound), peeled and quartered

1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

1 pound grapes, cut into 6 small clusters

1. Rinse quails and pat dry. Season inside and out with salt and pepper. Put a small amount of grated garlic in each bird's cavity, as well as the chopped rosemary and thyme. Drizzle birds with 1 tablespoon olive oil and let marinate at room temperature for at least 1 hour. (You may refrigerate for several hours or overnight; bring to room temperature before roasting.)

2. Heat oven to 450 degrees. Place onions in a small ovenproof skillet or pie pan, and season with salt and pepper. Toss with balsamic vinegar and remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil to coat. Bake until slightly softened and caramelized, about 10 minutes. Set aside.

3. Spread remaining rosemary and thyme sprigs on a baking sheet or in a low-sided roasting pan. Lay quails on top of herbs, breast-side down. Roast for about 15 minutes, until puffed and lightly browned.

4. Turn birds breast-side up and surround with the roasted onions and the grape clusters. Continue roasting for 10 minutes more. If necessary, put birds under the broiler to crisp the skin. Let rest 10 minutes and serve.

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