Simple Roast Quail

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roast quail on a platter
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

Roast quail is a bedrock skill for any quail hunter or any home cook interested in game birds. And while a pretty plucked quail may look like a tiny chicken, they are different enough to warrant their own recipe.

Quail come in various sizes and flavors, ranging from the mild, soft and tiny coturnix quail, which are the quail most people buy in the store, to the slightly larger and more flavorful bobwhite quail, which can also be bought in some stores, to the similarly sized and even more flavorful Valley, Mearns, Gambel’s or scaled quail — four species that taste very similar — to, finally, the large mountain quail of California’s Sierra Nevada. Mountain quail are a bit darker and gamier than the other quail species, but not so much that you need to cook them differently.

These plucked quail below are all Valley quail; incidentally, the four on the left are dry plucked, the one on the right is scalded. Notice the difference?

plucked quail ready for roasting
Photo by Hank Shaw

I prefer to dry pluck my quail, which requires some finesse and practice; I can pluck eight quail in a little over an hour.

Regardless of species, all quail roast the same. The basic rule for quail is hot and fast. Really hot and really fast. I like about 500°F for about 15 minutes or so. This will cook your little birds nicely, although they will be a little pale — a price to pay for juicy and tender meat. And always start with room temperature birds.

If you really want that pretty brown look, there are two ways to get it. The traditional way is to brown the bird in lots of butter: Butter will brown birds faster than oil and, well, it tastes good.

Another way is to blowtorch the bird after it comes out of the oven, which is what I do because I went and bought myself a Searzall, which is a cool device that allows you to brown foods very fast without getting that weird butane stink on it. Either way works, but if you do it, roast the quail a bit less, like maybe 10 to 12 minutes.

Finally, if you have access to a pizza oven or something else that gets to 600°F or even hotter, you can just blast your quail for about 5 minutes. This is, actually, ideal, although few of us have a pizza oven.

Whatever you do, keep things simple. The flavor of quail is chicken-like, but subtly different. You want to enjoy it, especially if you’ve worked so hard to bring a few birds home with you.

Roast quail recipe
4.82 from 11 votes

Roast Quail

This is a basic roast quail recipe that can serve as a stepping stone for other, fancier recipes. Once you know how to properly roast a quail, you can then play with glazes or marinades -- even though I am not normally a fan of marinades, they will work with quail because the birds are so small.
Course: Appetizer, Main Course
Cuisine: American
Servings: 2 people
Author: Hank Shaw
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes

Ingredients 

OPTIONAL BRINE

  • 1/4 cup kosher salt
  • 1 quart water
  • 2 bay leaves

QUAIL

  • 4 whole plucked quail
  • Lard, butter or olive oil
  • Salt
  • 2 celery sticks (optional)
  • Black pepper
  • Lemon wedges (optional)

Instructions 

  • If you choose to brine your quail, boil the water or wine with the kosher salt and bay leaves, then turn off the heat and let cool. Submerge the quail in this brine for 2 to 6 hours.
  • Preheat your oven to 500°F, or if it doesn't get that hot, as hot as your oven will go. This will take a little while for most ovens, up to 30 minutes. While the oven is preheating, take the quail out of the fridge and pat them dry. Coat with lard, olive oil or butter (your quail will be browner with melted butter) and salt generously. Set aside at room temperature while the oven heats.
  • When the oven is hot, get a small roasting pan or cast-iron frying pan and set the quail in it. They will want to tip over, so steady them with cut pieces of the celery stick. Try to prevent the quail from touching each other to speed the cooking process.
  • Roast the quail in the oven for 12 to 18 minutes. The lower end of the spectrum will give you quail that are juicy, succulent and a little pink on the inside -- but pale. The higher end of the spectrum will give you a fully cooked, browner quail, but one that is at the edge of being dry. Your choice.
  • When you take the quail out of the oven, place on a cutting board and rest for 5 to 10 minutes. Use this time to make the wild game sauce of your choice, or just squirt lemon juice on the birds before serving.

Notes

I include a brining step here if you like brining. If you do brine your quail, they will be more tender and you can cook them a few minutes longer -- but you run the risk of them becoming too salty. Don't brine too long! If you don't brine, the meat will have a nicer texture, but you have less room for error when you roast them.

Nutrition

Calories: 419kcal | Carbohydrates: 1g | Protein: 43g | Fat: 26g | Saturated Fat: 7g | Cholesterol: 166mg | Sodium: 14286mg | Potassium: 471mg | Vitamin A: 530IU | Vitamin C: 13mg | Calcium: 51mg | Iron: 9mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Tried this recipe? Tag me today!Mention @huntgathercook or tag #hankshaw!

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About Hank Shaw

Hey there. Welcome to Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, the internet’s largest source of recipes and know-how for wild foods. I am a chef, author, and yes, hunter, angler, gardener, forager and cook. Follow me on Instagram and on Facebook.

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49 Comments

  1. If you are looking to choose a recipe for cooking quail – don’t. Stop right here and take this dude’s advice. I didn’t follow it exactly but I did follow the basics (warm-up, salt/pepper, butter, cooking temp, cooking time, butter, mushrooms, butter, onions, butter) and my mouth thanks me.

    Since I live in a state completely isolated by salt water I had to resort to frozen quail. Frozen from Texas which is one of the best quail producing states I’ve ever had quail from. I did the obvious, thawing it overnight in the refrigerator and then pulling it out letting it warm half-way to room temperature. Even vacuum packed the dog still kept a close eye on this mysterious operation.

    I prepared butter then salt & pepper (not the band) and opened the quail packaging. Blood was pooled in the bottom of the vacuum bag and once opened, I did my best to drain the blood out of the birds into this bag. Thoroughly coating the birds with the butter and the salt & pepper I placed them in a dish to continue warming. All of this under the ever-present quality control from a canine owned snout.

    I chopped up 1/3 of a fennel bulb (about 1/3 cup) in pieces no larger than a kidney bean and set it to the side. I produced a small glass of vodka over ice then later I stunningly drank it. Mushrooms, or at least 1 cup of them, I sauteed in butter over med-high heat in a cast iron skillet until almost done yet still firm. I chopped up 1/6 of an onion and then set all of these things to the side. I drank the aforementioned vodka.

    As a hairy canine nose examined the quail in waiting – I started mixing. Taking the fennel, mushrooms, and onions all mixed together I stuffed each quail with this mash-up. Using the same cast iron skillet which was used for the mushrooms I placed each bird in it leaving room between each bird. While the entire skillet looked like a freeze frame from a karate competition I put it in the oven at 500?F.

    After diligent unsought canine guardianship (and an internal temperature of the bird at 160?F they were ready to consume. Consume I did and it was fantastic!

    PS – the somewhat precocious canine would like to thank you for this recipe which resulted in a delicious raw, quail blood smoothie.

  2. Can you boil the quail for about 30 minutes with kosher salt and bay leaves and maybe a teaspoon of cayenne pepper to speed up the process. Cause when drinking with your buddy’s they don’t want to wait. Prepare your rice and put quail in bbq pit maybe another 45 minutes.

  3. It’s been my experience with wild game birds, it pays to gut them almost as soon as they are in your hand. The stink is a common issue with wild birds, be they quail, woodcock, ruffed grouse, sharptails and other prairie fowl. There are two issues to be considered. The birds, if gut shot, spill their juices into the body cavity and over time sour the meat. If cleaned immediately and the cavity has some of the water you’re carrying for the dogs splashed into it, you will wash out and avoid that “stink”. The other is the water will help the cooling out of the game birds. Oh, and the dogs might need water, too.

    1. John: I find this only to be true with gut shot birds. I almost never gut small game birds, instead I cool them in the feathers and hang them a few days undrawn in the cold. Works well for me.

  4. Now in the winter (poetically) of my days, the juices still tally forth where quail are concerned. My 28 gauge Parker gun has been placed in the hands of a fellow quail hunter that is in the summer of his days.

    I recently found a well stocked retail store with reasonably priced farm raised birds that, once thawed , will be cooked to this recipe. More later.

  5. Barbara, I am also from Vancouver Island. Where do you think I can buy quail in Victoria? Thank you.

  6. Perfect Recipe. I live on Vancouver Island and we had a California Quail fly into the glass on our deck and die. As a hunter’s daughter I dutifully hung the bird, then skinned and prepared it as above. 9 minutes was perfect for my 4 oz delicacy. I served it with a sauce made from locally-picked blackberries picked this summer.

  7. man do i need your new book! ive got it ordered on amazon, but quail out here are thick, and the cotton tail were just hopping up to me. i killed 18 valley quail in central california this weekend and boy do i have 2 big questions:

    1. what the hell is that rancid, fecal smell while gutting? i cleaned my birds immediately after the hunt, but the poo smell was super strong and was a little disconcerting. i rinsed them alot when i got back to the sink and prepped for the vacuum machine, but i have never smelled anything that strong from a fresh shot bird.

    2. plucking them was a disaster: i sloooooowly plucked one feather at time, and only got a few with skin intact. do they really have that thin a skin?

    thanks! Darren

    1. Darren: 1. Sometimes the guts of chicken-like birds are, well, nasty. Clean them well and rinse in cold water, then let them dry in the fridge. They’ll be better. If not, which happens once in a while, wipe them down with vinegar. 2. It takes practice. I will do a video on how I do it soon.

    1. Fran: you are the first person I have ever heard call quail tough. They are always tender in my experience. Maybe you overcooked it? It can get dry then.

  8. I made quail for the first time using this recipe and it was so good. I cooked it for 12 minstrel just to be safe and it was juicy and good. A little pink but not undefined cooked. Thanks in will be using again.

  9. I would expect that the butter would burn and smoke at such high heat. Does this negatively impact the flavor? Will my kitchen be full of smoke?

    1. Steve: It’s not really designed for skinned birds. But if you try it, brine the quail first so they don’t dry out. Let me know your results, OK? Thanks!

  10. Instead of a butane blowtorch, you could use an alcohol torch. Jim Dandy is an antique model and is what I use. If you can get PGA (195proof), it will work fine and plus its meant for human consumption and won’t leave any funky fuel taste on your food. Denatured alcohol is ok but its not for human consumption. I personally like the idea of using a fuel in my blowtorch that is meant for human consumption. The Jim Dandy is cheap, easy to use and powerful enough to melt pennies. You can most certainly sear meat, burn feather stubs etc with it.

  11. LOVE your blog! This post inspired me to ride into Chinatown and pick up a few quail from the live poultry market to roast, especially since there is ripe fruit on my “mojito tree” (CA key lime). A question: Could I get a decent result roasting the tiny birds under the (preheated) broiler on the low setting? That would be infinitely better economically than having to run the oven for an hour to get it up to 500 degrees, but what about the end result?

    1. Brenda: It might not work. I’ve found that putting birds under the broiler chars the skin and overcooked the breast meat before the legs and wings are cooked through. But honestly. I’ve never tried broiling them on “low.”

  12. For anyone plucking quail for the first time – and I guess that won’t happen until next season, another five or six months away here in CA – be aware that the skin is very thin and subject to ripping, which ain’t good. Maybe that is why scalding is done, but I have never tried it since the birds are so small. Just have to hope you have a soft-mouthed dog bringing your quail to hand (you don’t have a dog, Hank, so don’t bite too hard when you pick one up) , and take a careful approach to pulling the feathers. It is definitely worth the effort!

  13. Just curious why wet plucking doesn’t work well on smaller birds. Clearly from the picture it just doesn’t, but I was wondering if you knew any specifics. I’ve only ever tried wet plucking pheasants, and was hoping to attempt it with some blue grouse this fall. Do you think blues are large enough to work, or would they end up looking like that quail?

    1. Ben: I think it’s the heat. The little bird get so hot so fast that the skin cooks by the time the feathers loosen. I bet there’s a trick to it I’ve not yet learned.