05 Jul2012

I had never cooked quail until yesterday. Eaten quail several times, yes, but never cooked them. And what started off as a a rather jurassic looking experiment turned into a lip-smacking, finger-licking good dish. For years I have wanted to try cooking quail, but it isn’t that easy to find it in local groceries or markets. I once called a quail egg farm in Cebu and while they agreed to sell the fowl, but they were quite a ways from our offices so that never panned out. Finally, a week or so ago, I sent someone to the Arranque market in Binondo to hunt down some pugo or quail for me. I was hoping for the meaty, farm-raised and fattened quail that might approximate this dish I had recently at Antonio’s in Tagaytay… I reiterate, farm-raised, not rare endangered wild quail like this one that was photographed and documented three years ago.

When my “scout” got to Arranque, the vendors said they were all out of the heftier, meatier quail typically purchased by restaurants and chefs. But they did have several dozen live quail that they could kill, gut and dress while he waited. After a quick text message, and an agreed price of PHP35 per piece, sight unseen, I told him to go ahead. I figured, after all the effort to get there, we might as well give it a try. So he purchased 10 small quail and they were cleaned and dressed (de-feathered) and they were stuck in the deep-freeze back at home. I defrosted them, was a bit concerned about how small and scrawny they were, but motored on…

I decapitated them and sliced them in two, removing the backbone. The resulting pieces looked less jurassic, more like minuscule chicken halves. ( Btw, did you know minuscule is the more proper spelling for miniscule? I didn’t know that until last week.) These were carefully rinsed, and any remaining feathers removed.

The original plan was to do a nice adobong pugo or quail in a vinegar and garlic braise, but these birds just looked so emaciated, victims of a fat loss diet gone bad, so I decided to deep fry them instead, similar to the way chinese restaurants might treat pigeon or other fowl which has really tasty and often more dark meat. First, I blitzed together some kosher salt, szechuan peppercorns, white peppercorns and some five spice powder. This pepper salt was sprinkled on both sides of the quail halves…

…which were laid out on a flat pizza pan. Next, I brushed the quail with a mixture of half Kikkoman soy sauce and half Shoaxing rice wine and let this marinate for about 1.5 hours.

Just before deep-frying, I sprinkled the quail with a generous amount of Wondra flour (you can use all purpose flour or a mixture of flour and cornstarch if you like) and deep-fried the quail.

I didn’t take much longer than say 2 minutes to get the quail nicely golden and cooked through. It was incredibly easy to cook, actually. Of course there’s all that fat and a bit of splatter… but I deal with that by having a high heat burner outdoors with its own small LPG tank. No lingering smells in the house after a deep-frying session!

You could tell just by the look and aroma that the deep-fried quail were going to be something special…

…less than a minute out of the fat and the pieces looked like miniature fried chicken, with a burnished skin that dried out and looked and felt incredibly crisp. I toyed with the idea of a sauce or dip of some sort, but nixed the idea after tasting one of the slightly cooled pieces of quail.

I jazzed the quail up for the photos with some sliced jalapeƱos and cilantro leaves, but they weren’t really necessary. These were AN ABSOLUTE HIT! Incredibly tasty meat, nicely flavored by the salt pepper and five spice. They were crisp and the meat still a bit moist. Perfect finger food. The Teen and I munched through 3 or 4 quail each and there was other good stuff on the table for lunch.

Let’s just say I am now a HUGE FAN of quail, and hope to get my hands on more soon. And maybe, just maybe, I can find some of the fatter ones to continue my quail experiments with. It’s unfortunate that more restaurants don’t have quail on their menus here in Manila or elsewhere in the Philippines (I understand they are a bit more accessible in Central Luzon). Quail are incredibly tasty and quite native. A bit expensive when you consider that you get barely any meat for the cost, but definitely delicious.



  1. millet says:

    when i was a teenager, the company my dad worked for had a huge poultry farm that included really plump japanese quails. at the company guesthouse, the fare always included fried and adobo quail. in our parties at home, however, we had whole barbecued quail, and my mom always included a whole boiled, peeled quail egg in each quail’s cavity, and the guests were always delighted to discover it. this post made me miss those days, and quails are now hard to come by here.

    Jul 5, 2012 | 8:18 am


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  3. pixienixie says:

    I’ve eaten quail only once, and I have to confess I didn’t really enjoy it. The birds weren’t fried; they were cooked in some savory-sweet brown sauce. I can’t remember the name of the dish, though.

    The birds were very bony, and I had a really tough time eating them. Maybe we were served skinny quail, like the ones you were able to procure. The difference is, you cooked them in such a way that made it possible for the bones to be munched on (I presume). :)

    Jul 5, 2012 | 8:32 am

  4. josephine says:

    Oh dear, I started to worry at ‘low fat diet gone bad’. They are so skinny! When I was very young we raised quails in a special little hutch. At least fatten them up a bit more! All this in a suburban backyard in Manila. Give them a happy if brief life at least….

    Jul 5, 2012 | 8:50 am

  5. EileenC says:

    … The fried quails look like synchronized swimmers…
    Nice plating, MM! Overdue thanks also for being so gracioso during my husband’s visit to your restaurant in Cebu- the liempo and lechon he brought home was delicious, the skin, so crisp!
    His greatest surprise was a photo in his iphone WITH YOU!! Thanks, MM!

    Jul 5, 2012 | 9:07 am

  6. ami says:

    This reminds me of the odd looking birds (with chicks) which we used to see walking around our property a few years ago. We never really got close enough to ID the birds but we suspected that they were quails. Might be someone’s pet gone loose.

    Jul 5, 2012 | 9:08 am

  7. Anne :-) says:

    Hi MM,

    You’re right about quails being more available in Central Luzon. In my hometown (Guagua), we have vendors selling them on the side streets and we barbecued them. :-)

    Jul 5, 2012 | 10:34 am

  8. jakespeed says:

    My dad used to raise quails in our backyard and sold the eggs as a side-business. They were quite easy to raise actually. I wasn’t really a fan of quail meat, though. My mom used to fry it and I think always over fried it as the meat became rather hard and chewy -not crispy at all. But after reading this, I suddenly craved for quails. Properly cooked quails, that is. :)

    Jul 5, 2012 | 10:56 am

  9. Clarissa says:

    What do you do with all the heads? Throw it out?

    Jul 5, 2012 | 11:58 am

  10. Marketman says:

    Clarissa, yes, in this case, they were chucked. Though if you had enough of them and bones, you could probably make a quail stock? :)

    Jul 5, 2012 | 12:27 pm

  11. Faust says:

    Hey MM why not include fried quail in your Zubuchon menu?

    Jul 5, 2012 | 1:16 pm

  12. Marketman says:

    Faust, it’s VERY EXPENSIVE… Maybe 10x the price of chicken! :(

    Jul 5, 2012 | 1:27 pm

  13. Gej says:

    Looks very delicious! Nice golden color.

    I used to hunt (or so, I thought) hunt wild quail – a.k. pugo , with my friends when I was a kid. Armed with a simple (and practically ineffective) sling shot, or “tirador”.When we ‘d see a pugo up the woods of our village, we’d try to sneak in closer to get a better shot. Almost always, the pugo would eventually sense us, and would immediately scamper for the bushes. We’d patiently wait for the pugo to re-surface again, but would realize that the pugo WAS MORE PATIENT THAN US. If I recall rightly, we’d wait for about 30 minutes at the shortest time, to about an hour, before the darn quail would go out from the bushes. Then after a weak and useless attempt at a shot with our tirador, the quail would once again hide under the bushes, this time a longer period. I never was able to hit and kill a single pugo with my tirador – my unintended gesture to preserve the endangered wild quail.

    Jul 5, 2012 | 1:54 pm

  14. weng says:

    The best quail dish I ever had was a Foie Gras stuffed quail at Commander’s Palace in New Orleans. I remember how flavorful and tender the meat was.

    Jul 5, 2012 | 3:01 pm

  15. passive.observer says:

    My mom used to cook quails back then, when supply was easily accessible. She would marinate it in BBQ sauce and grill in coals or the turbo broiler.

    Jul 5, 2012 | 4:44 pm

  16. Carla says:

    @EileenC, they do look like synchronized swimmers!

    Jul 5, 2012 | 6:58 pm

  17. Botchok says:

    Typo (title), Deep *Fired*. Btw, i really like Quail and we used to breed them. It is easy to maintain and you get a lot of quail eggs everyday and they multiply so fast.

    Jul 5, 2012 | 11:57 pm

  18. PITS, MANILA says:

    More breeders of quail … more supply … so more can enjoy the item.

    I remember having adobong-pugo as a child (plain good old adobo recipe with hard-boiled quail eggs in). It was a Kapangpangan household, they love cooking that along with “lelut-tugak” (lugaw with frog), not to mention other crispy-fried bugs … never mind — just go with the first two!

    Jul 6, 2012 | 7:03 am

  19. Marketman says:

    Botchok, thanks for that, edited. :)

    Jul 6, 2012 | 7:27 am

  20. Papa Ethan says:

    Along the Maharlika Highway going north, at a certain intersection somewhere within Baliuag, are stalls that sell heaps of deep-fried pugo on a daily basis. It is a favorite quick stop for truck drivers and other motorists who buy the quails for a yummy snack or for pulutan. They’re cheap, too! — one hundred pesos for seven birds.

    We were on our way home from a family vacation last summer when I (being the driver) conveniently detoured to the said crossing for my fix of these famous fried pugo which I had been missing for years. We excitedly bought some, and it smelled incredibly yummy in the car.

    Unfortunately, my folks couldn’t live up to my level of enthusiasm. They were bothered by the “jurassic” look of the tiny things as these came out of the paper bag. And worse, the birds tasted awfully malansa and incredibly tough! My little daughter politely changed the topic of banter to save me the embarrassment of having made such a big deal about the supposed delicacy.

    I guess I had the misfortune of picking the wrong stall. The quail I got was probably not dressed properly, and was obviously an unsold batch that was simply reheated in hot oil. What a bummer!

    Jul 6, 2012 | 7:49 am

  21. JR Peralejo says:

    Mr. Marketman, I’m in the poultry business for three years already and I do say that I like quail (whatever way it is cooked) more than chicken. Quail has a nicer bite, cleaner, gamey taste and is pumped with fewer antibiotics than chicken because they are primarily bred to produce eggs.

    Jul 6, 2012 | 10:47 am

  22. Connie C says:

    My, my, my, those birds look scrawny indeed! I wonder if there is a distant quail relative with shorter limbs, looks more plump and caught in rice fields, at least that is how I remember them. Mom called them pugo.

    Eons ago when I was a little girl, Mom would buy them from walking vendors. She would cook them “estofado” like with soy sauce and star anise and brown sugar. I have never been able to replicate this delicious dish and sorry I never paid attention to how she did it.

    And Josephine: my mom would do as you said, fatten poultry up before dressing them , in the days when you still bought live poultry and dressed them yourself. This I can still do with my eyes closed though I remember with horror when a helper dressing a hen lost grip and the decapitated fowl ran around for a while before sighing its last breath and “nangisay”.

    Jul 6, 2012 | 8:12 pm

  23. kurzhaar says:

    Quail are one of our favourite meats–occasionally we’ll buy farm-raised birds but there’s nothing like wild quail in flavour or excitement (they will explode out of the brush in front of you, the sound of a covey taking off is like nothing else). Not easy to hunt, tough little critters, and I must say you do feel like you’ve earned your dinner when you bring them home. I like them in any dish, but our party favourite is a paella with quail (or rabbit) and beans.

    Jul 7, 2012 | 11:55 am


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