Holiday traditions marked around the tree or table are beloved, for sure. But for many Southerners, memories made in the field are every bit as important. That’s certainly the case for Chris Hastings, the chef and co-owner with his wife, Idie, of Hot and Hot Fish Club and OvenBird in Birmingham, Alabama. “The first quail I ever ate was a wild quail that I had shot as a young boy,” he says. “We cooked it over an open fire, and it remains one of my favorite food memories.” An avid wing shooter, Hastings loves to work with quail in his restaurants and at home because “it has a rich, clean flavor that’s not at all gamy.” While quail hunting in the South is a winter pursuit, you don’t need to be a hunter—or the lucky relative or friend of one—to bring the birds to your table. Follow the lead of many of the South’s best chefs and order yours from Manchester Farms, in Columbia, South Carolina, the oldest commercial quail farm in the country. They raise pharaoh quail, a breed that’s better suited to farming than bobwhites. Hastings’s two biggest secrets to nailing a quail dish: Bring the birds to room temperature before cooking, and take care not to overcook them (five to six minutes per side on the grill is plenty). Plate one of these recipes on Grandmother’s china, and gather around the table with your family. Just don’t be surprised when the chatter comes to a halt—consider it an homage to both the bird and the cook.
Quail Three Ways
Just Add Cream
“This is our take on an old-school camp recipe—a simple tribute to my first experience eating quail.”
Season 12 semiboneless quail with salt, pepper, and 1 tsp. chopped thyme. Heat ¼ cup vegetable oil in a Dutch oven on medium-high. Add quail, in batches, and brown on both sides. Set aside. Add to pot ½ stick butter, ½ tbsp. thyme, and 1 sliced leek. Cook for 3 minutes. Add 1 lb. sliced cremini mushrooms. Cook, stirring, for 5 minutes. Add 2 cups chicken stock. Simmer for 3 minutes. Add 1½ cups heavy cream and quail. Simmer, covered, for 25 minutes. Uncover and let thicken for 5 minutes. Stir in 2 tbsp. chopped parsley.
Fire Up the Grill
“For me, one of the world’s great flavors is perfectly grilled quail with citrus and peppery watercress. It comes together beautifully.”
Place 12 semiboneless quail in a bowl with ½ cup olive oil, 2 peeled and smashed garlic cloves, 3 tsp. chopped thyme, 3 tsp. chopped sage, and 3 tsp. chopped parsley. Toss and refrigerate at least 2 hours or overnight. Preheat grill to medium-high (375ºF). Season quail with 3 tsp. kosher salt and 3 tsp. pepper. Grill for 5 to 6 minutes on each side until golden brown and cooked through. Remove and keep warm. Serve over a vinaigrette-dressed watercress salad with blood orange and pistachios.
Serve Over Roasted Veggies
“You could pour white barbecue sauce on your shoe and it would taste good. On top of quail and seasonal root vegetables, it’s impossible to beat.”
Arrange 12 semiboneless quail in a baking dish and cover with 6 cups brown-sugar cure (DIY or available online). Cover and refrigerate 4 hours. Remove, rinse, and pat dry. Preheat grill to medium (300ºF to 350ºF). Grill quail, skin down, for 6 minutes. Turn and cook for an additional 5 to 6 minutes. Remove and keep warm. Serve over roasted vegetables (such as parsnips, beets, carrots, and potatoes). Drizzle with your favorite white barbecue sauce, bottled or homemade.