I learned that the hard way. Quails aren’t easy to find and I don’t cook them very often. When I was a child, it was my father who did that. He was fond of quails almost as much as ducks and pigeons. Too bad I never paid much attention when he prepared the quails.
What are quails?
Quails are game birds in the phesant family. The size of an adult bird is about six inches and the wingspan is around one foot. Females are generally larger than males. As food, quails have a gamey smell and taste.
How we cook quails
Quails aren’t meaty birds. And what little meat there is can be rather dry and tough. The skins are thin which add little fat to the meat during cooking. The trick, therefore, is to tenderize the meat without allowing it to dry out even more. The best solution? The steamer.
First, season the quails. Optionally, butterfly them. Lay them out in the steamer basket and steam the hell out of them. An hour and a half to two hours. Pierce the breast every 30 minutes or so to check if they are tender already or if longer cooking is required.
When the quails are tender, cool them preferably on a rack. Allow the skins to air dry so that they don’t create oil spatters when you lower them into a pan of hot oil.
When the steamed quails have cooled, drop them into a frying pan with hot oil. Once they brown, they’re done. Alternatively, place on a roasting rack, brush liberally with oil (or melted butter), stick in a very hot oven and roast just until the skins are glistening.
Can quail bones be eaten?
Some people do eat the bones and there are chefs who recommend just that. We don’t eat bird bones here at home. Whether the bones turn soft enough during steaming and crispy enough during frying, well, that’s not really what I was interested in. I just wanted the meat to be tender and juicy, that’s all.
So, yes, we did discard the bones. And it’s not hard, despite the size, because when the meat is tender, it is easy enough to separate the meat from the bones.
Alternative ways to cook quail
Are there other ways of cooking quail aside from steaming and frying? Sure! I’ve never tried them though. But I’ve read recipes and cooking instructions for roasted. One of my favorite TV chefs, Laura Calder, has a recipe for braised quails with wild mushrooms. There is another quail recipe with orange sauce — an interesting one, really, because duck is good with orange sauce; why not quails?
If you want to invent a recipe for quails, congratulations! Just remember that it’s just a bird with the meat not as tender as chicken and without a generous amount of fat.