Roast Quail with Balsamic Reduction

This was supposed to be a Valentine’s Day meal. Dainty roast quail, so small that a serving is two birds each. Precious. Adorable. Perfect for Valentines.

Perfect, yes, as long as your notion of a romantic meal includes eating with your hands and gnawing on bones as if you were in King Henry VIII’s court. Unless you are as skillful with dinner knife as a surgeon is with a scalpel, the easiest way to eat a small bird such as a quail is with your fingers. It is a messy affair, unless you can get your quail already “tunnel boned” in which the main body bones have already been removed. A bird prepared like this you can easily stuff and then just use a fork and knife to cut and eat. Alas, although I was able to find quail (frozen) at each of the three stores we checked, they were all still fully bone-in. Which means fingers, and little bones, and messy, and primal. Hmm, primal. Wait, maybe that’s not so bad after all for a romantic meal?

By the way, to eat the quail, the easiest thing to do is to pull off the legs and wings with your fingers (hard to do with a knife, we tried, not worth it). If you want, you can use a fork and knife to carve away the breast meat. Carve it as you would a Thanksgiving turkey, using a sharp knife or steak knife running down one side of the center of the breast bone, and then along the rib cage. Or just pull the breast meat out with your fingers.

  • Prep: 10 minutes
  • Cook: 20 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 2.

Quail, properly cooked, still have a blush of pink inside. They are delicate-tasting birds and need this delicate treatment to truly shine. If you are aiming for a temperature, 150°F in either the leg or breast is ideal; quail are so small the whole bird will likely be the same temperature throughout.

Ingredients

  • 4 whole quail
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • Salt
  • 1 celery stick
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup inexpensive balsamic vinegar

Method

1 If you are working with frozen quail, either defrost overnight in the refrigerator, or place the package in a large bowl and cover with a couple inches of room temperature water for 20 minutes.

2 Pre-heat the oven to 450-500°F. Truss the quail with kitchen string. Cut off a length of string about 18 inches long. Cross the middle of the string over the quail's legs and bring the string around to the front of the bird, making sure it holds the wings close to the bird's flanks. Tie the string tightly around the neck. (Chow.com has an excellent video on how to truss a chicken, and quail are the same, only smaller.) Allow the quail to come to room temperature for at least 20 minutes.

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3 Pat the quail dry with paper towels. Coat the quail with the olive oil and salt well. When the oven is hot, arrange the quail, breast side up, in a small roasting pan. Use pieces of the celery stick to keep the birds upright while they roast. Cook for 10-12 minutes. Remove the birds from the pan and set aside on a plate to rest for 10 minutes, loosely tented with foil.

4 As the quail are resting, make the sauce by putting the roasting pan on a burner set to medium heat. Discard the celery sticks. Add the chicken stock and deglaze the pan by scraping all the browned bits off the bottom. Bring this to a simmer and pour into a small pot or sauté pan. Add the balsamic vinegar, increase the heat to high and boil down to a syrup. Halfway through the boil, pour any accumulated juice from the resting quail into the sauce. When the sauce thickens and will coat the back of a spoon, it's ready.

Serve the quail with the sauce drizzled over everything. Serve with a side of polenta, or rice pilaf.

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