Even If It Looks Like a Chicken, You Can't Always Cook It Like a Chicken
Chicken and quail have a lot in common. Plucked, they look practically the same, and quails bred for food don't taste that much different from the chicken you buy at the supermarket. But there are a few considerations, namely size and, if you're cooking wild quail, gaminess.
The variety of quail commonly found in grocery stores, the mild, nongamey coturnix (3 ounces to jumbo-variety 11 ounces), has a taste so close to chicken you'd have difficulty telling them apart in a blind tasting. Bobwhite (7 to 9 ounces) typically has a bit more size and gaminess, while mountain quail (around 12 ounces) has the most wild taste. To purge any gaminess, go with a standard salt brine, which also plumps and seasons the birds.
Quail meat is relatively tender unless you overcook it, making quick, high-temperature roasting the best cooking method. Their quick cooking time doesn't allow for much browning, though. If your roast poultry just isn't roast poultry unless it's browned, a bit of butter brushed over the skin will do it for you.
Total time: 2 hours, 45 minutes | Prep time: 30 minutes | Serves: 2
- 1/4 cup kosher salt, plus more to taste
- 1 quart water
- 4 quails
- 1 cup butter, melted
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- Bring the salt and water to a boil, and then let it cool to room temperature. Add the brine and the quails to a food-safe container. Brine the quails in the refrigerator for 2 to 4 hours.
- Heat the oven to 450F. While the oven heats, take the quails out of the brine and set them out at room temperature.
- Pat the quails dry and brush them liberally on all sides with melted butter. Season the quails with freshly ground black pepper and set them on a wire rack set inside a roasting pan. Place the quails on the center oven rack.
- Roast the quails 14 to 16 minutes. Check the internal temperature of a quail thigh with a meat thermometer; it should measure around 160F. Take the quails out of the oven and let them rest, covered loosely in aluminum foil, for 5 minutes before serving.
Add aromatic ingredients to the brine to add a little extra aroma and background flavor to the quails. A crushed garlic clove or two, a pinch of red pepper flakes and a couple bay leaves, for example, complement mild quail meat nicely.