By Chris Hastings
On any given February day in my home state of Alabama, you can shoot a limit of quail over your own setters, drive a few miles, and harvest the first tangle of wild cress from the many limestone springs. By supper you will be eating like a king. This is a perfect day for outdoorsmen, dog lovers, and foragers alike. And while this dish is a forager’s delight, store-bought watercress can be substituted for the wild variety, and the quail can be pan-roasted if you’re not up to firing up the grill after a long day’s hunt.
Editor’s note: For those of us not fortunate enough to live where watercress grows or can’t find in stores, arugula or kale make decent substitutes.
Recipe: Grilled Quail on Watercress with Blood Orange Salad
- 6 (6-ounce) semi-boneless whole quails
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 small garlic clove, smashed and peeled
- 1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
- 1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh sage
- 1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh parsley
- 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
- 1 3/4 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper, divided
- 9 cups (6 ounces) wild watercress, washed and trimmed
- 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons blood orange vinaigrette, divided
- 36 blood orange segments (about 3 oranges)
- 1/2 cup toasted and lightly salted pistachio kernels
Clip and discard the last 2 segments of both wing tips on the quail. Rinse the quail under cold running water and pat dry. Place the quail in a large glass bowl with the olive oil, garlic, thyme, sage, and parsley. Toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to overnight.
Preheat the grill to medium-high (350˚F to 400˚ F).
Remove the quail from the refrigerator and let them marinate at room temperature for 20 minutes. Remove the quail from the marinade and season them on both sides with 1 1/2 teaspoons of the salt and 1 1/2 teaspoons of the pepper. Place the quail on the grill and cook for 5 to 6 minutes on each side or until golden brown and cooked through. Remove the quail from the grill and set aside to keep warm until ready to serve.
Blood Orange Vinaigrette -
Makes about 1/2 cup
- 1 cup freshly squeezed blood oranges, 4 to 5 oranges
- 1 tablespoon freshly grated blood orange zest
- 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon fresh lime juice
- 1 tablespoon finely diced shallots
- 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 pinch freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Place the blood orange juice in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat slightly and allow the juice to gently simmer until the mixture has reduced to 1/4 cup, about 15 minutes. Add the blood orange zest to the reduced juice and continue to simmer until the mixture has reduced to 3 tablespoons, an additional one to two minutes. Remove the juice mixture from the heat and cool completely.
Whisk together the cooled blood orange mixture, the lemon juice, lime juice, shallots, thyme, and parsley. Season the juices with 1/4 teaspoon salt and a small pinch of the pepper. Pour the oils into the juice mixture in a slow, steady stream, while whisking constantly. Continue whisking until the vinaigrette is slightly thickened. Use immediately or refrigerate until ready to use. The vinaigrette can be kept in the refrigerator for up to three days.
Toss the watercress and 1/4 cup of the vinaigrette in a large bowl and season lightly with 1/4 teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Divide the watercress evenly between six plates (about 1 1/2 cups per person). Place five to six blood orange segments and 2 tablespoons of the pistachio kernels around each salad. Top each salad with the reserved quail and drizzle with one to two teaspoons of the remaining vinaigrette. Serve immediately.
Chris Hastings is an avid quail hunter, a James Beard-award-winning chef, and the owner of the Hot and Hot Fish Club in Birmingham, Alabama.
This story originally appeared in the Fall 2021 issue of Quail Forever Journal. If you enjoyed it and would like to see more delicious quail recipes in the pages of Quail Forever Journal, become a Quail Forever member today!