Roast Quail with Balsamic Reduction

Photography Credit: Elise Bauer

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.

Roast Quail with Balsamic Reduction Recipe

  • Prep time: 10 minutes
  • Cook time: 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.


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


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. ( 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.


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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  1. Paul

    I accept all you say is based on experience so you know it works. I like quail so used to eat it when ever I found it on a restaurant menu. Then I had two experiences of the quail being under cooked because of this belief that quai has to be slightly pink because it has a delicate flavour. Then I had a bad experience at a friends dinner party. Now I only eat quail if I cook it myself or my wife cooks it. Apart from not being ill after, we both prefere quai well cooked and believe the taste is far better, although this does need a little more source. To go one better, is boning out the quail, which I have become quite expert at and then stuff the birds with something delicious and add a little fois gras. Yes we are Swiss French and see ducks being raised for the fois gras and they are clearly not suffering, they run around in the open and freely and excitedly go to be fed. Naturally the cooking time is much longer than ten minutes. One quail is enough per serson and if offered a second quail our guests are quick to abandon social graces and invariably jump at the chance. Follow this with Crepes suzette, folded in four in the traditional way. Lift the top fold and insert a small portion of strawberry ice cream and a generous spoon of thick whipped cream with a little sugar and a few drops of whiskey andthen you will wow your guests. Make sure there is plenty of Suzette sauce.

  2. W.H.Hamilton

    This sounds so good ,I think I will try it on phesant to see if it will work on a little bigger bird.

  3. mantha

    Did you say this was a romantic meal? Then by all means use your fingers to eat the quail while gazing into your partner’s eyes. For a quick tutorial, see the eating scene from “Tom Jones.”

  4. Peter

    I love these little birds…very flavourful meat (and lean). I like the simplicity of your sauce…KISS principle!

  5. Kiran

    Elegant dinner! Can I sub quails for cornish hen instead? Quails are hard to get here on my neck of woods :)

    Cornish game hens are much, much bigger than quail. More like small chickens. They will take longer to cook, and you probably want to cook them at a lower temperature. I would online for another recipe. ~Elise

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