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.
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A.J. Andrews' work has appeared in Food and Wine, Fricote and "BBC Good Food." He lives in Europe where he bakes with wild yeast, milks goats for cheese and prepares for the Court of Master Sommeliers level II exam. Andrews received formal training at Le Cordon Bleu.