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Grilled Quail in Red Onion Escabeche
From Mexico One Plate at a Time, by Rick Bayless with JeanMarie Brownson and Deann Groen Bayless (Scribner, 2000)
Adapted by StarChefs

Yield: 6 Servings

  • 12 semi-boneless quail (about 5 ounces each), thawed if frozen
  • 3 whole cloves
  • ½ teaspoon whole black peppercorns
  • 1-inch piece of cinnamon stick, preferably Mexican canela
  • Salt
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for grilling quail
  • 2 medium red onions, sliced ¼ inch thick
  • 6 cloves garlic, peeled and quartered
  • 3 bay leaves
  • Leaves from 6 sprigs fresh thyme, roughly chopped, plus some whole sprigs for garnish (or substitute ½ teaspoon dried thyme)
  • Leaves from 6 sprigs fresh marjoram, roughly chopped, plus some whole sprigs for garnish (or substitute ½ teaspoon dried marjoram)
  • 2/3 cup green olives, preferably manzanillos, pitted and halved
  • ½ cup dried currants
  • 1½ cups water or light chicken broth
  • ½ cup manzanilla or fino sherry, white wine, or water
  • 3 Tablespoons sherry vinegar
  • 3 large pickled jalapeño chiles, stemmed, seeded, and cut lengthwise into thin strips
For marinade:
With kitchen string, tie each quail’s legs together at the bottom. To hold the wings in place during grilling, twist the last joint of the wings up over the breast and then down behind the “shoulders,” tucking them in firmly.

In a mortar or spice grinder, pulverize the cloves, black pepper and cinnamon. Set about ¼ teaspoon of spice mixture aside. Use the remainder to dust both sides of quail, then sprinkle them generously with salt. Cover quail and refrigerate for at least an hour, or up to overnight.

For escabeche:
Place olive oil in a large (12-inch) heavy skillet (preferably a well-seasoned cast iron or nonstick pan), over medium heat. Add onions and garlic to hot pan and sauté until onions are translucent, about 5 to 6 minutes. Remove half of the onions from pan and set aside. Add the reserved ground spices along with bay leaves, thyme, marjoram, olives, currants, water or broth, sherry (or its substitutes) and vinegar to the onions remaining in the pan. Cover and simmer over medium-low heat for 15 minutes to bring the flavors together. Taste and season with salt, usually about ¼ teaspoon, depending on the saltiness of the broth, then stir in the jalapeño strips and remove from heat. Cool, then stir in the reserved onions.

For quail:
Heat a gas grill to medium-high or light a charcoal fire and let it burn until the coals are very hot and covered with gray ash. Reduce the burner(s) in the center of the gas grill to low or set up the charcoal grill for indirect cooking by banking all the coals to one side, leaving the other half of the grill empty. Set cooking grate in place, cover grill and let grate heat up, 5 minutes or so.

Brush quail on both sides with a little olive oil, then lay them breast side down on grill with legs toward hottest part of grill. Cover and cook until nicely browned, about 3 minutes. Turn quail over and move to cooler portion of grill, still with the legs toward the hot area. Cover and continue grilling for 3 to 5 minutes more. They’re fully cooked when a fork can easily pull meat from leg bone; it’s normal for fully cooked quail meat to remain a little pink at the bone. Remove quail from grill.

To serve quail warm, individual servings are easiest. Place 2 quail, slightly overlapping, on each of 6 dinner plates, then spoon a portion of escabeche over each one. Garnish with whole sprigs of fresh thyme and marjoram.

To serve dish cool, arrange grilled quail on a deep serving platter and pour the escabeche on top. As it cools, the quail and vegetables will absorb much of the liquid, making it easy to pass. Garnish with whole sprigs of fresh thyme and marjoram.

Wine pairing:
A lighter, high-acid red such as the Argiolas Perdera 2002


Published: July 2004