Quail birds are one of the smallest breeds of poultry available. The game bird is distinguishable by its small size, stocky body and pointed wings.
Quail were originally native to the Middle East are now found worldwide, across Europe, North America, South America, Australia, Asia and Africa. The tasty meat of the small bird is available all year round. Quail meat is particularly popular in France. The bird is good for roasting, grilling, casserole and is also good in curries. Traditionally, recipes for quail suggest that the bird should be oven-baked and served with thinly sliced, deep fried potatoes called game chips.
There are around 130 breeds of quail around the world, the most common of these are the Japanese, Bobwhite and Californian quail. Japanese quail are the only variety eaten in quantity but were once bred in captivity for household pets due to their singing. The birds are good fliers, some breeds have been known to fly to Africa for winter as they prefer the warmer climate.
How is quail farmed?
The wild quail is protected in the UK, only farmed quail is available which is mostly intensively reared. The best quail to buy is the organically reared or free range quail birds that have been raised in a traditional way. The farms from which they come from will have to have adhered to a number of standards for hygiene, health and safety and animal welfare; when the birds have been raised well this usually improves the quality of the meat and flavour. Many butchers and supermarkets do sell quail but it may need to be ordered in advance. The birds are also prolific egg layers, with one bird sitting on around 6-12 eggs at a time. These eggs are tiny and delicate and used in a number of dishes.
What to look for when buying quail
When buying quail meat, the flesh should be unblemished with a creamy or yellow colour with a slight pink tinge. Any meat that seems a bit too dry or smells off should be avoided. The birds are sold both boned and unboned, the boned quails have much more room to add stuffing. The meat is quite lean with a good amount of delicate tasting, meaty flesh to the bone.
How to cook quail
One bird should be enough for a generous starter or light main, however, for a hearty meal, two birds per person is ideal. The bird works well when it is marinated properly, flavours such as red wine, lemon, peppercorns and juniper berries, enhance the flavour and tenderise the meat. As the bird is small and lean, it can become quite dry when cooked, because of this, the quail should be basted while in the oven to keep the meat succulent and moist. Another way to keep the bird moist is to cover the breast with ham, pancetta, bacon or vine leaves while it cooks which keeps the moisture in the bird. Fruit based stuffing, such as plum and prune, works well for roasted quail. It suits both slow and fast cooking. For best results when grilling or barbequing, the bird should be spatchcocked (removing the backbone and flattening the bird slightly) as this will help them cook faster.
- Roast quail, broccoli, peanut and lime
- Smoked quail, lardo, spelt and chanterelles
- Roasted quail, butternut squash, braised red cabbage and cinnamon
- Lancashire tea smoked quail breast, confit quail leg, Formby asparagus, broad beans and peas, tea consomme
- Pan seared quail, braised Lancashire gem lettuce, broad bean and girolle fricassee
- Quail, foie gras and summer veg, sherry and cobnut dressing