Originally native to the Middle East, quail are now found across Europe. It's a small bird, so one will serve one person as a starter, and you'll need two as a main course. It has a fairly high proportion of lean, meaty flesh to bone, and a delicate flavour.
All year round.
Choose the best
Look for birds that are plump, with unblemished, fresh-looking creamy/yellow skin with a pink tinge - avoid any that seem dry, or smell 'off'. If you are buying a farmed quail, the best are organic or free-range, reared in the traditional way. Quails are sold boned or unboned. Boned have more room for stuffing, and make for slightly less messy eating.
Read more about animal health and welfare in farming at Defra, The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
Take the quail out of the fridge around 1 hour before cooking. Using kitchen paper, wipe the outside of the bird and inside the cavity. As quail has quite lean, dry meat, it can be marinated at this point. Otherwise, season inside with salt and pepper then, if you like, push in some flavourings or stuffing (fruit-based stuffings such as plum or prune work well). Tie the legs together with string. As well as brushing with melted butter or oil, you can also wrap the breast with pancetta, Parma ham or vine leaves to prevent it from drying out.
Alternatively, you can spatchcock them before cooking (particularly for grilling or barbecueing as they will cook faster that way). Remove any ties, cut out the backbone with a pair of kichen scissors, then use the flat of your hand to push down along the length of the bird, flattening it out. Then push two skewers across the width of its body, going in through the leg on one side and coming out through the leg on the other; the skewers will keep it flat while cooking.
Keep the quail in the fridge, on a tray, covered with foil or greaseproof paper. Make sure it's on the bottom shelf, so that any juices don't contaminate any other food; it's particularly important to keep the quail away from any other cooked meats or food that will be eaten raw. Eat within two or three days.
Roast (20 minutes). Grill (15-20 minutes, turning frequently).
Try chicken, turkey or grouse.