Small birds – such as quail, partridges, doves, woodcock, snipe and teal – are almost always best roasted whole. But getting it right can be tricky, because you can’t roast a pheasant the same way you roast a quail. Size matters.
Remember this rule: The smaller the bird, the hotter the heat. When you roast a pheasant, you can get away with a mild 350°F. But if you did that on a quail or partridge, the bird would dry out before you ever got close to getting that crispy skin – and keep in mind that any bird worth roasting whole is worth plucking. Don’t roast skinless birds.
The reason for this is surface to mass ratio. It takes time to cook a larger bird like a pheasant all the way through to the base of the thigh, which is the part of the bird that takes the longest to cook. But a smaller bird will cook faster. Yes, it will be cooked through fairly quickly at 350°F, but crisping the skin will take longer. By the time you get golden brown skin, the meat is too far gone.
A better way is to jack up the heat on your oven as far as it will go. You want at least 425°F, but honestly, 500°F is better for the smaller red meat birds like doves or snipe. Heck, even a pizza oven, which can run upwards of 700°F, will work. Basically you want blistering heat to render fat and crisp skin as fast as possible.
A quail cooked at 500°F will cook in 10 minutes. A snipe or dove will be done at this temperature in just 8 minutes. Doves done in a fiery pizza oven can be ready in as little as 6 minutes. The result is a little bit of char, crisp skin and perfectly done meat.
Ready to try it?
- 8 quail, doves, snipe or woodcock, or 4 teal or partridges
- Canola, rice bran or grapeseed oil
- 2 celery sticks
Preheat your oven to 500°F. This can take up to 30 minutes. While the oven is preheating, put a cast iron or other oven-proof pan in the oven.
Remove the quail from the fridge and pat them dry. Coat with oil and salt generously. Set aside at room temperature while the oven heats.
When the oven is hot, take the pan out (remember it’s hot!) and set the quail in it. They will want to tip over, so steady them with cut pieces of celery sticks. Try to prevent the quail from touching each other – this speeds the cooking process.
Roast the quail in the oven for 10-15 minutes, depending on how well-done you like your quail. At 10 minutes, they will be cooked to about 150° internally, which is done but slightly pink.
When you take the quail out of the oven, place on a cutting board and let them rest for 5-10 minutes before serving.
A member of both Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever, Hank Shaw is a hunter, cookbook author and award-winning writer. His website is Hunter Angler Gardener Cook (www.honest-food.net). He lives near Sacramento, CA.