As the warmer months approach, my cooking routine moves outdoors, especially to the grill or to dishes that pair well with salads and other light summer fare. Quail is one of my game meats of choice during these months. It is easy on the grill to get that rich charred smoky flavor and then serve room temperature or cold. It’s a lighter meal, but a bit more interesting than chicken.
Even without a grill, a quick sear in a cast iron skillet can turn this little bird into a quick yet seemingly fancy lunch. Ideally, you will remove the breastbone and backbone while keeping the bird whole, so that the meat can be cut into with a fork and knife. It sounds more complicated than it is, and there are video tutorials on the web to walk you through it. Then your lunch companions can dive in with ease, and the legs can be pulled off and eaten like little meat popsicles. When it comes to game meat there is nothing better than the flavor of those delicate quail popsicles, in my opinion.
For this recipe, I rely on a combination of spices to add some assertive flavor to the quail, a flavor that only improves as it mixes with the juiciness of the meat. I also use whole-wheat flour to give it crispness on the outside. White flour would work here as well, but there’s something about the coarseness of the whole-wheat flour that I prefer, it has a bit more body to it.
This spice mixture also works well with other white-meat birds, even the standard barbecue favorite, chicken. It is meant to be a dusting of spice, not a heavy breading, making it prime for a grill. To serve, I pair it with a favorite salad. Pictured here is a purple kale slaw, which is just a finely chopped purple kale with apple, poblano peppers and a mélange of vinegars, olive oil, salt and pepper. Grilled fruit also works nicely as a bed for the quail—try grilled peaches, pineapple or even mango. Or try all three! A cold salad of choice, served with a salsa made of peaches, pineapples and mangos and a fine jalapeno dice would be superb. Finish it off with a crisp, cold, summer wine, or your favorite beer and it is a summer lunch to remember.
Spicy Seared Quail
4 whole quail, deboned
Salt and pepper
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
¼ cup whole wheat flour
4 tablespoons olive oil or grape seed oil
1. Rinse the quail and pat them dry. Season them with salt and pepper inside and out.
2. In a small bowl, combine the spices with the flour and mix until fully blended.
3. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat.
4. Drop the quail in the bowl of spices and toss so that each piece is well coated.
5. Place the quail in the skillet and let them brown, about 4 minutes on each side.
6. Remove and place on paper towels and serve immediately, preferably alongside your favorite salad or grilled fruit. Serves 2 to 4.