Anatomy of a Classic

Spiced Quail with
 Chocolate Gravy

Serves 4

A sweet secret from the Ozarks

Photo: Johnny Autry

It’s time to talk about quail and chocolate gravy. Wait—don’t stop reading. There is a reason they should be married, and chef Robert Newton has figured it out. It’s not a far leap, if you take a moment to consider classic moles from Puebla and Oaxaca built with a touch of bitter chocolate and usually spooned over poultry.

Drawing culinary lines through seemingly disconnected regions is not a new sport for Newton, who was born in Missouri but grew up just across the border in Arkansas and now operates Seersucker with his girlfriend, Kerry Diamond, in Brooklyn. The restaurant has a wall filled with jars of pickled vegetables and a menu built from an amalgam of things like New York ramps, Missouri ham, and Carolina grits. But he has a particular fondness for chocolate gravy. He grew up seeing it cooling on the stove in countless kitchens in the Ozarks, a sweet slurry of cocoa powder, sugar, and flour stirred into milk. As Southern food goes, chocolate gravy is about as regional as it gets.

Quail, on the other hand, is much more broadly loved. Once the province of hunters exclusively, the bird is now readily available at groceries such as  Whole Foods, and farmed versions work just as well in Newton’s smart take on two seemingly unrelated Southern ingredients.

His favorite memories of chocolate gravy come from Mildred’s house. She was an Ozark auntie of sorts, and “there were always biscuits and a pan of whatever kind of gravy she would have going so you could get a snack,” Newton says. “Chocolate gravy is one of those lost things. I don’t ever see it on a menu.” So he decided to revive it, drawing on his culinary school education, his French-style training at places such as Le Cirque, and his study of food from Vietnam and Mexico to create a deconstructed quail mole.

The birds, which he says work best semi-boned, are given an aggressive spice rub,  then grilled quickly over a hot flame. Meanwhile, you will have made your gravy, which resembles the best lowbrow dessert until you add the cayenne. Pool the gravy on a plate, add a bird, drizzle it with a little more chocolate gravy, and then shave some Virginia peanuts on top. A beautiful marriage, Southern style. And, believe it or not, that cold gravy makes a fine pudding the next day.


  • For the Quail

    • 1 tbsp. coriander

    • 1 tsp. cumin seeds

    • 5 allspice berries

    • 3 tbsp. smoked paprika

    • 1 tbsp. benne seeds

    • 1 large clove garlic

    • 1/2 tsp. salt

    • 1/4 cup canola or other neutral oil

    • 1/4 cup orange juice

    • 4 quail, semi-boneless

    • 2 to 4 large peanuts

  • Chocolate Gravy

    • 4 tbsp. cocoa powder

    • 2 tbsp. all-purpose flour

    • 1 1/4 cups whole milk

    • 2 1/2 tbsp. sugar

    • 2 tsp. salt

    • 1/3 tsp. cayenne

    • 2 tbsp. butter


  1. Toast coriander, cumin seeds, and allspice berries in a sauté pan until fragrant. Cool two or three minutes, then grind in a spice grinder until powdery. Place ground spices in a small mixing bowl and add paprika and benne seeds. Mix well.

  2. Chop garlic, sprinkle with salt, and mash into a paste using the side of a knife. Add garlic, canola oil, and orange juice to the spices and mix thoroughly.

  3. Snip wing tips off quail. Pour rub over quail, turning to coat.

  4. Marinate at least one hour but no longer than six hours.

  5. Prepare a medium-hot grill and cook each bird for seven to nine minutes, turning once, until medium-rare.

  6. Gravy preparation:
    Combine first six ingredients in a saucepan. Cook over medium until thickened, whisking often to reduce lumps. Remove from heat and stir in butter. (The sauce can be reserved while the quail cooks. Just loosen with a few tablespoons of water as you reheat it.)

  7. To serve:

    Pool a bit of gravy on a plate, top with a quail, drizzle with chocolate gravy, and then, using a micro plane, shave peanuts over each bird.

Meet the Chef: Chef Robert Newton

Mountain Home, AR

Brooklyn, NY

Personal fuel: Lots of nuts, wheat berries, and shaved vegetables, with one or two all-vegetarian days a week

Favorite footwear: Birkenstocks

On the radio: “I’m addicted to Spotify.”