Grilled Honey-Lacquered Quail

Angie Mosier

Get Kevin Gillespie's recipe

From Fire In My Belly

We grill more quail at Woodfire Grill than any restaurant in the world. At least it seems that way. I’m slightly concerned that we may be singlehandedly destroying the world’s quail population. But in Georgia, people love quail. I also decided early on that Woodfire Grill would not serve chicken because we couldn’t get a steady supply of high-quality birds. Quail has been on our menu for at least 4 years now. One of the techniques we stumbled on was honey-lacquering the birds. I always liked glazing fruit by cooking down honey until it caramelizes and then brushing it over the fruit.  The honey takes on a savory flavor and makes a beautiful glossy lacquer. We tried it on quail, and the honey’s sweetness and savoriness completely erased any gamy taste in the birds.

Hunters often ask me how to cook quail. The trick is using superhigh heat for a super short time. Quail are like the Thumbelina of poultry. They’re tiny. If your quail grills for more than 5 minutes, something has gone wrong. The longer they cook, the gamier they taste. Just give them a quick sear on both sides, take them off the grill, and lacquer them with the caramelized honey. It’s my favorite way to cook these birds.

Makes enough for 4 small plates

1 cup honey
12 cloves confit garlic (recipe below)
⅓ cup red wine vinegar
4 quail (with skin on, breast bones removed, leg and wing bones intact—often labeled “semiboneless”)
Olive oil

You can make the honey lacquer ahead and store it covered in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Just heat it up a little in a pan before using, so it’s free-flowing.

Put the honey and garlic confit in an 8-inch sauté pan and set over medium-high heat. When the mixture starts to bubble and foam, cut the heat down to medium. As the honey cooks, take a whiff. After a couple minutes, it will begin to smell like toasted rice, then the aromas of the flowers will start to develop; orange blossom honey will have a citrus aroma, wildflower honey will smell more floral. The flavors will intensify and the honey will start to change color from very pale to slightly golden after about 5 minutes.

When the color starts to change, add the vinegar. It will foam up and then deflate, and the mixture will continue to bubble. Cut the heat down so that the mixture simmers very gently and cook for another 15 minutes. The mixture will be crazy hot, so be very careful. Gently pull the pan from the heat and let cool for 5 minutes. Puree the mixture in a blender, then strain the puree and discard the solids.

Heat a grill for direct high heat.

Pat the quail dry, brush both sides lightly with oil, and season the breast side with salt. Scrape the grill clean and coat it with oil. Set the quail on the grill, breast side down, at a 45-degree angle to the grates. Grill for 1 minute, rotate 90 degrees, then cover with a foil pan or metal bowl and grill for another 2 minutes. Flip the quail over, cover again, and grill for 2 minutes more. Remove the quail from the grill and immediately brush on a thin, even coating of the honey lacquer. Let the quail rest for 2 minutes before serving.

Confit garlic

Makes about 1/2 cup cloves and 2 cups garlic oil

3 whole heads garlic, each clove peeled and trimmed of its woody end, about 30 cloves total
2 cups olive oil

Put the garlic cloves and olive oil in a small saucepan. Bring the oil almost to a simmer over medium heat, but don't let it boil. Cut the heat down to low and cook until the garlic is golden brown and soft, 20 to 25 minutes. Pull the pan from the heat and let the garlic cool in the oil. Store covered in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

From Fire In My Belly, by Kevin Gillespie/Andrews McMeel Publishing, LLC