Quail braised with figs (and without wrestling ribcages)

Quail and figsWe somewhat impulsively picked up several brace of quail at Saturday’s market, and despite Steve’s suggestion that the birds be breaded, then deep-fried in lard (bolstered by his friend Chef Bill, who also recommended biscuits and cream gravy), Michelle decided to go another route.

Searching her cookbooks for something different (and hopefully much less kitchen-messing than a deep-frying session), she decided she wanted to stuff the quail, which would mean the first step was deboning the little birds. She watched Jaques Pépin on YouTube, consulted a few other digital and analog sources, then decided that she had too few quail to risk birds rent asunder by trying to learn how to do it. (We may try the techniques the next time we make stock, which may provide some enlightenment.)

Michelle had come across a recipe for braised quail with figs while consulting our Cook’s Illustrated Complete Book of Poultry. Since the most complicated part of quail prep was binding the legs with twine, and we had some nice plump dried figs about, it seemed like a nice option. The recipe turned out a bit more “fiddly” than Michelle would have liked but we were very pleased with the results. The browned, then braised quail were quite tender, and the fig-sweetened sauce enhanced their delicate flavor. We added more garlic, some shallots and smoked paprika to the original recipe, which made things even better.  As did a side of couscous and the sight of non-mutilated quail.


(adapted from Cook’s Illustrated Complete Book of Poultry)

  • 6-8 whole quail
  • Salt and pepper
  • 3 TB olive oil
  • 4 TB butter
  • 6-8 large Turkish dried figs
  • 1 shallot, sliced thin
  • 4 garlic cloves, sliced thin
  • 1 c. dry white wine
  • 1 c. chicken or other broth
  • 1/4 c. sherry vinegar
  • 1-1/2 TB sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 2 TB chopped fresh parsley

Using kitchen twine, tie the legs of each quail together. Season birds generously with salt and pepper and bring to room temperature.

Put whole figs in a small bowl. Cover with boiling water. Let stand for about 10 minutes. Drain and dry with paper towels. Cut off any tough stems or bottoms. Cut figs into quarters and set aside.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil and 1 tablespoon butter in a skillet large enough to hold all the quail tightly. Add shallot. Season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until starting to caramelize. Add figs and garlic. Cook for a couple of minutes, stirring. Then add wine, stock, vinegar, sugar and smoked paprika. Bring to a boil, then turn down heat. Boil for approximately 7 minutes until slightly thickened. Remove from heat, cover and set aside.

Heat 2 tablespoons of oil and 2 tablespoons of butter together in a large skillet. Fry the quail over high heat until browned on all sides. This will take about 5 or 6 minutes.

Transfer the browned birds to the pan containing the sauce. Bring to a simmer. Cover. Cook quail until done, about 7 minutes more.

Add chopped parsley and remaining tablespoon of butter to the sauce. Add additional salt and pepper if needed.

Serve quail with couscous with sauce spooned over.



    • Thanks, Sally! I (stupidly, it turns out) almost typed: Can you get quail in the Middle East? Then I Googled and learned, duh, that quail came from the Middle East. I love that I am always learning something. 🙂

      • I see the little birds flapping about quite often on stretches of desert here. Don’t cook with them that often though – you’ve made me wonder why not.

  1. Mine too! Mouthwatering sight and recipe, even at breakfast time here in Germany…plus I´ve never had quail before…Seems like I already know what to cook next weekend!

    • Danke, Sabine. I love quail. My dad used to shoot them. But, sadly, they are not found much around here any more except in game farms. (But, I have to admit, the totally domesticated ones have something to be desired over the wild ones: no buckshot to eat around!)

  2. Quail is such a nice treat! I’d love to try it paired with figs. Couscous sounds perfect for soaking up all those juices.

    I watched Pépin de-bone a chicken in preparation for making guinea fowl stuffed with chestnuts. He’s very encouraging; I didn’t begrudge him even when he indicated that it would take ‘like, 45 seconds’ to remove the ribcage (for me, half an hour). Maybe one day I’ll be ready to try de-boning a quail…

    • Thanks, Pear. They are yummy little birds. My favorite, actually, of all the game birds. But … sigh … you are exactly right about Pépin’s videos. He’s so nice. And reassuring. Until one wakes up and realizes: “there is no way that I can do that without hundreds of birds to practice on first.”

  3. I’m very picky when it comes to sweet additions to protein, but quail can definitely stand up to figs. If these taste anywhere near as good as they look, then I’m sure this was a great dish. I admit I would like to have tried Steve’s suggestion, but that would mean I’d have to live on steel-cut oats for the next two weeks to reset the scale. Great post. Ken

    • I actually do like fruit with protein. But I’ve got a terrible sweet tooth. 🙂 This reminds me that I got way behind and never went back to comment on your last post. How do you think figs would go with mealworms?

      • Pretty well, if the figs and meal worms were in a tart, or on top of yogurt – they’re really too frail for much beyond a garnish, or adding a bit of nutty crunch to somethimg. 🙂

    • Thanks, Karen. It was a nice recipe. I often find the Cook’s Illustrated recipes wonderfully tested but a little too underseasoned for my taste. I joke it’s too Yankee. Forgive me. 😉

  4. Wow this is stunning. I just got a bunch of dried figs. We don’t have a ton of quail over here, but maybe I can do this with chicken or cornish hens. Just lovely.

    • Thanks much, Amanda. We don’t find quail often here either. They used to be abundant as wild birds and my father (the great hunter) often brought them home. But not so anymore. We were thrilled to see them at the farmers’ market. But, yes, I’m sure that it would work with any small bird.

  5. Great combination! That photo makes the dish look incredibly inviting. I think you made the right choice. I once watched Jacques Pépin debone a chicken in 30 seconds (or something like that) and have sense thought of myself as an inferior human being (the process takes me no less than 15 minutes), since chicken deboning skills clearly translate to worth. I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to extract those little quail bones!

    • It probably wasn’t as good as what Steve was advocating, but they were quite tasty. I know. I have to remind myself frequently: I did not go to cooking school. Stupidly, I went to law school instead. I do envy those knife skills!

  6. This sounds much, much easier than trying to debone quail. Not that I’ve tried, but watching videos about deboning chicken made me think I wasn’t meant to be a butcher. Like Sally said, this is my kind of meal!

  7. This sounds like a wonderful way to prepare quail, Michelle. Love the idea of braising them with figs. I’ve a couple of the Cook’s Illustrated cookbooks and find that more than few of their recipes are “fiddly.” I’ve had good results with their recipes, though it sometimes seems that they want us to use every mixing bowl and kitchen gadget during a dish’s preparation.

    • It was delicious, John. Now I’m kicking myself for not going to that particular market this weekend for some more quail! You’re right about Cook’s Illustrated. Incredibly well tested recipes, but I often find their stuff under-seasoned for my taste. I think that’s sort of the Yankee bias that they have.

  8. Gorgeous recipe! I imagine if you didn’t have access to quail, duck might be a good substitute for flavour? It is fig season here in New Zealand and to be honest, it is the first time I have noticed. I tried fig for the first time not long ago and now looking to do something with figs before the season is over.

    • Wonderful! I can’t take a lot of credit for the recipe (other than finding it), but I thought it was really good, too. I am going to have to go back to that market and see if the guy has more quail. I don’t see them often here.

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