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 jalapeños 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.