Nice precedent, damn quail

Gourmandistan’s freezers hold some dark and shameful secrets, many of them involving foodstuffs not normally found in your mass market cookbooks. Steve’s penchant for odd bits of animals leads to small collections of things such as sweetbreads and pig feet, and Michelle’s lifelong hunter father often gifts us with undated and sometimes ill-described parts of former wildlife such as venison, wild turkey and pheasant and recently, two brace of quail. We appreciate and try to use every portion of meat we obtain, yet must now admit that certain well-intentioned projects (e.g. cat food made from some of the nastiest bits) may never come to fruition. It used to be that certain unpleasant or difficult packages could quietly  sink to the bottom of our small chest freezer, helpfully hiding until someone (usually Michelle), stirring for stray bacon packs, pulled them up and declared them “too old” to eat. Now, with our new upright freezer, we can see virtually everything—which brings us back to those damn quail.

The birds sat prominently in the basket with our other poultry parts. Quail are lovely things, but generally something we’d rather others prepared for us. Between the buckshot and the itty bitty bodies, wild quail’s ratio of trouble to taste lies way outside Gourmandistan’s acceptable limits for home prep, and we feared this gift would be wasted without even the plausible cover of the old freezer’s oubliette. However, a recently-stumbled-upon 1930 edition of Fannie Farmer’s The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book held a solution that we couldn’t pass up—Quail Pies.

We’re finding more and more that pre-WWII cookbooks hold many interesting solutions to odd food scrap problems. Possibly due to the times, people seemed concerned with finding a use for whatever food was about. The authors were less concerned with “prime cuts” and less afraid to acknowledge where their food came from. As a bonus, the portion sizes from the time before industrial feedlots work well with the smaller animals we buy that were raised locally and humanely. We didn’t totally follow the cookbook’s instructions, reverting in large part to our usual pot pie recipe. But we couldn’t resist Fannie’s direction to make “incisions” in the crust “through which the legs of the bird should extend.”  Sure, it took us all day to de-bone and de-buckshot the quail, chop vegetables, make crust, fill pie pans and bake. Along with local peas, carrots and potatoes and some celery and mushrooms, the little quail baked into damn good pies—a good start on visiting old viewpoints about using every scrap of food.

Happy Monday!


  • Servings: makes 4 small, 4-1/2 inch pies
  • Print

  • Pâte brisée or other sturdy pie crust
  • 4 quail
  • Flour for dredging quail
  • Salt & pepper
  • Olive oil + butter for frying quail
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1 or 2 garlic scapes, chopped (optional)
  • 1 stalk celery, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 2 carrots, sliced into coins
  • 1/2 c. peas
  • 1 small potato, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • a handful of dried porcini mushrooms, reconstituted
  • 3 TB. butter
  • 3 TB.  flour
  • 3 c. rich stock*
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • Sherry, to taste
  • 1 TB. cornstarch if necessary, mixed with water

Make the crust, then refrigerate.

Remove breast meat from birds and chop into bite-sized pieces. Then remove legs. Dredge breast meat and legs in flour seasoned with salt and pepper. Sauté in a mixture of butter and olive oil in a skillet.  Brown the meat quickly, but do not cook fully as it will cook further in the oven. Remove meat from skillet and set aside on a plate.

Add onions to remaining fat in skillet (adding or subtracting fat as needed).  Sauté over medium heat until colored, turning often, about 10 minutes. Near end of cooking time, add garlic scapes and garlic slices.  Remove from heat.

Boil carrots, potatoes and celery separately in salted water until each is just shy of done.  Drain and shock with cold water and set aside.

Melt 3 TB. of butter in a large saucepan.  Stir in the flour, adding more butter if needed to absorb it, and cook for a few minutes until flour taste is gone. Pour in stock, stirring over medium heat until smooth.  Add parsley and thyme, vegetables and mushrooms. Stir in cream. Season with salt and pepper and sherry to taste.  The sauce should be the consistency of a medium béchamel. If the sauce seems too thin, mix together a thick paste of cold water and cornstarch and stir into the mixture.

Place meat in 4 small gratin dishes, but reserve 4 of the quail legs.  Pour the sauce and vegetable mixture over.  Place a leg in the middle of each dish, bone up.

Divide dough into fourths.  Roll each fourth out on a floured piece of waxed paper in a circle slightly larger than the containers you are baking in. With a knife, make an X in the center of each crust.  Center the crusts over the pies, with the quail leg sticking out through the X.  Flute the edges over the rim of the dishes.

Bake pies in a 400° oven until golden brown, about 30 minutes.  It is a good idea to bake on a cookie sheet, in case the filling boils over.  If you make pies ahead of time and refrigerate (which you can), baking may take a bit longer.

*You can, as we did, follow Fannie Farmer’s instructions and make a stock with the quail bones simmered along with some onion, carrots and celery and a bay leaf.  The stock was a bit thin, though, and we ended up supplementing it with some chicken broth.


  1. I love it! I do love quail. But am always worried that I will be the one who cracks a tooth on some missed buckshot. Your pies look amazing. I love the little legs sticking out! That Fannie. So funny!

  2. I love the little leg! And this post is the reason that I bought an upright freezer for the basement as well…I knew that we’d find frost-bitten bits deep in a chest freezer. 🙂

  3. that’s gorgeous! that’s what I like about wartime recipes (and a lot of asian recipes), the way we make use of all those less common ingredients to make the most out of what we have. it’s frugal but usually no less delicious. I can’t afford sirloin steaks but give me a stew made from trotters anyday and I’ll be more than happy!

    p.s. that leg sticking out is hiliarious.

    • Thanks! It is funny, isn’t it? I think Fannie Farmer really meant for us to have two legs sticking out from each pie, but we couldn’t figure out how to bone the little birds properly.

  4. Good lord, but those look good! The leg projecting from the lead photo is priceless. Great observations about portion sizes and an awareness that people knew where food originated. I too have a freezer full of unusual stuff–mostly Texan venison, but also a wild turkey. I chop it up for your pies, but I suspect it’s gonna need some slow cooking. If you’ve been down that road, any suggestions would be appreciated. Thanks. Ken

    • I can’t recall ever actually cooking wild turkey (it probably fell victim to the chest freezer). My dad used to smoke it, I think. Best venison dish I’ve made in a long time was a John Besh one in, of all places, Field & Stream Magazine. You can find it online.

  5. That’s so cool that you get random wild meat things! I’m forever bookmarking recipes for things with quail and pheasant and wild boar, knowing full well that the likelihood I’ll ever cook boar is about 0, especially since ground beef sometimes feels daunting (I’m more of a beans and rice kinda girl when I’m at home). Great use of the quail, though!

  6. I don’t know how I missed this post. I LOVE IT. It seems like game pies may be the answer to almost every (culinary) question. Here they make their crust using suet, which I at once find terrifying and hopelessly fascinating. (I have not dipped my toes in that particular pool yet.) Also, after reading through the comments I just got the pun too. You kids are so clever.

    • Aaaaw, thanks! I’ve never used suet for crust, but I guess it would be sort of like working with lard. The last few times we’ve tried lard crusts they haven’t worked out. I think the liquid content is hard to judge, at least with Steve’s home-rendered lard.

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