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I've had various successes (but mostly failures) with the little birds. I'd like your advise on making it tender as can be.

My technique is mostly to sear the outside and then cook for about 20' in a flavor full broth (onions, wine, other vegetables & spices).

Am I cooking it too long (or short)?

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2 Answers

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Three potential methods or changes you can try:

  1. soak the quail in brine for 2-3 hours before searing. You can do this in a large zip-lock sack or in a covered bowl. Make sure to store the quail/brine combo in your refrigerator during the soaking.

  2. Let quail reach room temperature before cooking.

  3. Pan-searing the quail might dry out the smaller pieces, i.e. the bony wings or legs. Try your 20-minutes cooking in a very hot oven, making sure not to burn or sear the quail too much. Similar to cooking a turkey, cover the thinner pieces with foil so they dry out more slowly.

Ultimate method: use a "Sous Vide" method - you basically seal the quail and your flavorful broth in a vacuum seal bag, making sure to get as much air out as possible before sealing. Then you slow-cook the bag+contents in a Sous Vide hot-water bath. Instead of buying an expensive/French Sous Vide cooker, just follow these steps for very similar results: http://www.seriouseats.com/2010/04/cook-your-meat-in-a-beer-cooler-the-worlds-best-sous-vide-hack.html

Note: to get a good finish, after cooking the quail to tender in a Sous Vide bath, you can sear the quail a little bit with a cook's blow-torch (for good presentation) or just pan sear it quickly in a hot pan.

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Sous-vide which temperature? –  BaffledCook Sep 27 '11 at 14:34
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The above methods will work, but are slightly flawed. You can sous vide a whole quail, but it is inherently wrong to do so. The white (breast) meat is inherently more tender and requires less heat than the tougher legs and wings. Separating the breasts and wings/legs into two sous vide bags works the best.

I like to cook the breasts at 130°F (55°C) (hold for ~2.5 hours for food safety reasons) and the legs/wings at 140°F (60°C) for 12 hours. The latter process helps break down the tougher tissue in the leg and wing meat, providing a seriously tender piece of quail. Filling each bag with a good flavorful broth or stock such as duck broth will make the quails even better. Make sure to remove the skin prior to cooking the meat. Finish the meat off on a smoking hot griddle for a moment to crisp it up.

Sans sous vide, I would prefer to simply glaze and char-grill the quail. Braising is a great technique, but in my experience is better suited for less-flavorful cuts of meat. Braising is probably going to extract much of the flavor out of the quail (and make a delicious jus...). And it sounds like you're braising it too long if it's dry.

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