I love quail. I should clarify that at this moment, on this blog, I am referring to quail as food. I don’t believe I have featured them here before, so today I am going to remedy the omission.
‘Quail’, according to the Oxford English Dictionary includes ‘any of various small short-tailed game birds of the Old World subfamily Perdicinae (family Phasianidae), esp. of the genera Coturnix and Perdicula, which resemble tiny partridges and typically have brown camouflaged plumage; esp. the widespread and migratory C. coturnix, which has a distinctive liquid call.’ The OED continues “domestic quail usually belong to the species C. japonica, the Japanese quail, but this is indistinguishable from C. coturnix except by call, and is sometimes regarded as a subspecies of it.’
From a culinary point of view, the use of quail as a desirable dinner dish is attested from the late fourteenth century, but it has undoubtedly been enjoyed for much longer. Quails were likely often included in the ‘small birds’ mentioned in early feast descriptions, and many cookery books simply indicate that they be cooked in the same way as partridges.
I give you a few choice recipes for this delicious little bird, from a range of cookery books from the late eighteenth through the nineteenth centuries.
Pick and truss them like partridges, put them on a bird-spit, tie vine leaves over the breasts, and tie them on another spit, roast them for twenty minutes before a clear fire, and baste them with butter often; when they are done, put them in a dish, with fried breadcrumbs round them, and bread sauce and gravy in boats.
The English Art of Cookery (1798) by Richard Briggs.
Quails au Gratin.
Bone nine quails; cut a piece of bread in the form of a cork, about two inches and a half in diameter, and two inches and a half high; surround it with a very thin slice of bacon fat; place it in the middle of the dish; garnish this round with farce fine (No. 34), sloping off to the edge of the dish all round. Season the quails with a little herbaceous mixture,* fines herbes, and salt; nil them with farce, so as to give them their original plumpness; place these with the breasts outwards on the farce: put a little more farce on the birds, so as to leave the breasts bare only; cover these with a thin slice of fat bacon, and bake them in a sharp oven about three quarters of an hour: when done, take out the roll of bread, and, with a sponge, soak up all the fat; fill this well with a good brown Italian (No. 68), or scolloped truffles, in a gipsey sauce (No. 71) When served with truffles, an under fillet larded with truffles may be served between the birds; otherwise put a fried comb of bread or larded fillet. Glaze the breasts and serve.
Simpson's Cookery, Improved and Modernised (London, 1834) by John Simpson (Cook)
Cailles au chasseur.
Put the quails in a pan with six ounces of butter, some chopped parsley and shalots, salt and pepper; toss them repeatedly over the fire for five minutes; sprinkle upon them a table-spoonful of flour; toss again. Add half a tumbler of white Burgundy wine, and as much water or broth. Let the sauce thicken in boiling fast. When the quails are done, squeeze upon them half of the juice of a lemon.
Cookery for English households, by a French lady (1864)
Quails Cured in Oil.
Procure a sufficient number of fine, plump quails. Pluck them, draw them, clean them thoroughly, cut them open so that they will lie flat, as for broiling, and rub them over with salt. Let them lie in the salt, turning them every morning, for three days. Let them dry; and then pack them down close in a stone jar, covering each layer of quails tightly with fresh gathered vine leaves. Fill the jar with pure salad oil, and cover’ it securely with bladder, so as quite to exclude the air. When they are wanted, take them out and broil them. They make a delicious dish for breakfast.
The Godey's Lady's Book Receipts and Household Hints (Philadelphia, 1870.)
Lay the birds in a deep earthen dish, and season with pepper, salt, and a little butter; then dredge in flour. Nearly cover with cold water; cover with a paste, and bake one hour.
The Appledore Cook Book (Boston, 1872)
Some say Queen Jane Seymour died partly as the result of a surfeit of quails, which she kept calling for after giving birth to Edward VI ...
I don't know if this qualifies as proving that quails were considered good eating before the 14th century, but in Exodus, when the Israelites were wandering in the desert after escaping from Egypt, their food consisted of quails that appeared in the evening, and manna that appeared in the morning. Most people remember the manna, but not the quails!
I love these comments! Thanks Foose and Sandra- I didnt know either of these little stories. Dont you love the internet? We could never have had this conversation in the Good Old Days!
The most elegant (by far) date I ever went on in my single days started with the Bolshoi and ended with dinner at a German restaurant. Quail (he ordered).
Unfortunately for my bon vivant escort, I couldn't figure out how the heck to eat it around all those little bones.
(for some reason I usually ended up with burger-and-a-movie guys).
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