Braised Quail with Figs

Braised Quail with Figs, Onions, and Squash:

Quail with Figs, Onions, and Squash

Last night we cooked 4 more quail my father had given us.  In addition to the quail, he handed me a recipe from Hugh Acheson, and mentioned a few alterations he had made to the recipe.  Being the inveterate fiddler that I am, I took his suggestions and added a few more of my own.

I was fully prepared to have some of my alterations backfire on me, and if they did, I was going to have to mention that any problems were due to me, and that nothing should be taken away from the quality of the original recipe.  However, dinner turned out to be one of those “WOW” experiences, and we both agree that you could be served this meal in any fine restaurant and be extraordinarily pleased.  Kudos to Chef Acheson for the combination of ingredients and techniques!

Changes I made:

I substituted dried mission figs for dates, something recommended to me by my father.  This substitution was amazing.  I picked out 8 figs, 2 for each quail, and cut them in half.  Then I put them in a mug, covered them with water, and microwaved that for 40 seconds.  Then I let them sit while I worked on the rest of the recipe, and eventually added them to the mix in the pan.


I didn’t see leeks this week when we picked up produce, so I got 6 small green onions, using the whites and pale green.  I also used a white granex onion we got at the Farmer’s Market this week.

I threw in a slivered clove of garlic when I was heating the oil.  I let the oil heat up, and when the garlic was caramel brown, I seared the quail, more on the back than the breasts, then set them aside.

Salted & Peppered Raw Quail

Lightly seared quail

And lastly, I took 2 fresh local small pattycake yellow squash, cut them into wedges and threw them in with the rest of the stuff.  The squash aren’t ours (we’re going to have to wait another week for our own squash) but it is that time of year, and I couldn’t resist.

Garlic & Oil

I used dried thyme, parsley, and 1 bay leaf from the jar, and just added them to the pan.  I fished the bay leaf out before serving.

I used peanut oil instead of olive oil.  I would think that olive oil would work just fine, but I like the smoke point on my peanut oil.  Walnut oil or any of several other oils might work just as fine and bring a different highlight to the dish.  I also used a ¼ cup instead of just 2 tablespoons.

Into the pan

Add the Quail

I did the whole dish in a heavy straight-sided pan with a lid, and cooked it on top of the stove.   I added the onions and figs to the garlic and oil (after I browned and removed the quail), tossed in the herbs, poured in the cider and cooked it for 3 minutes, then added the chicken stock and the quail back, and then I cooked it for 22 minutes.

At this point, the quail were done perfectly.  I pulled them out with tongs, then scooped out all the veggies with a large slotted spoon.  I combined 1 tablespoon arrowroot, 2 tablespoons of flour, and a good half cup of chicken broth and stirred them into a liquid slurry.  When they were combined well, I poured this into the pan with all the liquid there, and turned the heat up for about a minute, stirring constantly.  This resulted in a fine brown quail gravy with lovely flavors from the figs, onions, garlic, and herbs.

Quail with lima beans and mashed potatoes

Lastly, I placed the quail on a plate, ladled veggies over them, and paired them with mashed potatoes and baby lima beans.  The meal was fabulous, and we served the other open hard cider (I used Scrumpy’s) with the dinner.

The original recipe, unaltered by me:

Braised Quail with Leeks, Dates, and Cider
by Chef Hugh Acheson


4 quail, gutted and cleaned
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 squash-ball-size yellow onions, peeled and halved
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 medium leeks, whites and pale greens only, cleaned and diced to ½ inch (about 2 cups)
½ cup pitted and chopped Medjool dates (about 6 dates)
Bouquet garni of thyme, parsley, and bay leaf (4 sprigs each fresh thyme and flat-leaf parsley, and 1 fresh bay leaf, tied together with kitchen twine)
1 cup hard apple cider
1 cup chicken stock

Rinse quail under cool running water, dry on paper towels, and season liberally with salt and pepper. Stuff half an onion into the body cavity of each bird, and truss it by tying together the drumsticks with kitchen twine. In a Dutch oven over medium-high heat, warm the olive oil to just below smoking. Gently add all the quail, and crisp on each breast side, about 2 minutes per side, and then brown the back as well. Remove the quail from the pot and set aside.

Using the same pot, lower heat to medium, add the leeks, and cook until the leeks begin to soften (stirring frequently), about 5 minutes. Add the chopped dates, the bouquet garni, and the cider. Cook the cider down for about 3 minutes, and add the chicken stock and the quail. Let the liquid come almost to a boil, cover, and turn the heat down so the cooking liquid is barely simmering, cooking until quail are done, about 15 to 20 minutes. Remove quail and reduce cooking liquid until slightly thickened, about 3 to 5 minutes. Spoon liquid over the quail before serving.

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3 Responses to “Braised Quail with Figs”

  1. kitsapfg Says:

    Oh My! That sounds incredible! Do you think cornish game hens would be a reasonable substitute for the quail? I just don’t see me finding quail (or at a price I would be willing to pay any ways) but cornish game hens can be found reasonably priced and readily enough available.

  2. foodgardenkitchen Says:

    I would think duck breast or squab would be closer substitutions, but if you split a cornish game hen in half it would be a reasonable alternative. You can find quail locally in many places, or you can order it across the internet. It isn’t unusual to be able to get 4 quail for $16-20 dollars, though they can cost much higher. Yes it is pricey, but less so than 2 porterhouse steaks (grin). If I weren’t getting them for free, it would definitely be special occasion only.

    Rock Cornish hen is not going to taste like a quail of course, and it is going to take longer to cook. I would suggest that one cornish game hen equals 4 quail. Or you could go with chicken thighs. I’m sure dark meat chicken would be delicious in this recipe.

    I would adjust the cooking time for the cornish hens or thighs. I would also rub under the skins with softened butter before searing them, and I would brown them on the heavy side rather than on the light side like I do with the quail.

    Now you’ve got me thinking! I guess for a vegetarian option I could cut potatoes and carrots in half and sear *them* in a bit more oil, then pretend they are quail for the cooking in the pan. I’d up the quantity of parsley. Hmmm, Seared Potatoes & Carrots with Figs & Onion & Squash. Yeah I’d make that for dinner. In fact, I might do that soon and report back on if it comes across.

  3. pharoh Says:

    come october you can try to harvest you own quail—then the eating gets even better

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