Recipes & Cooking  |  01/18/2022

Gamebird Gourmet // Quail with Saffron Couscous


This Middle Eastern inspired dish will have you coming back for more

By Jenny Nguyen-Wheatley

If you’re handy in the kitchen, this quail and saffron couscous recipe will take you no more than 30 minutes to have dinner ready on the table. The most difficult part about this recipe might be paying for the ingredients — sumac, pine nuts and saffron aren’t typical ingredients in most American pantries. You might be wondering what you would do with a whole jar of sumac after making this recipe. 

The combination of cumin, thyme, coriander and sumac is basically za’atar seasoning, sans sesame seeds. It’s a Middle Eastern spice blend that tastes delicious on not only birds, but also red meats such as venison, lamb and beef. It’s also tasty sprinkled on top of hummus, flat breads and mixed into buttery popcorn. After you make this recipe, it won’t be the last time you reach for za’atar in your cooking.

Recipe: Quail with Saffron Couscous

Servings: 4
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cooking Time: 30 minutes

  • 8 whole plucked quail
  • Salt
  • ½ tsp. cumin
  • ½ tsp. dried thyme
  • ½ tsp. coriander
  • ½ tsp. sumac
  • Olive oil 
Saffron Couscous
  • 2 cups couscous (Moroccan) 
  • ¼ tsp. saffron threads, loosely packed
  • 2 tbs. hot water
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 4 tbs. butter
  • Salt, to taste
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts
  • 2 tbs. extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbs. lemon juice
  • Freshly chopped cilantro
  1. Set oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit, and allow it to preheat for at least 10 minutes after it comes to temperature. Meanwhile, cut out the spine on each quail with kitchen shears. With your fingers, peel out the ribs on both sides of the inside cavity. 
  2. Rub each bird with olive oil, salt, cumin, thyme, coriander and sumac. Place birds on a rimmed cookie sheet lined with foil and roast on the middle rack in a 450-degree oven for about 12-15 minutes, or until skin turns golden and birds are cooked to your liking. If your oven heats unevenly, rotate the cookie sheet halfway through cooking. 
  3. In a mortar and pestle, grind saffron to a powder and stir in hot water. In a medium saucepan, bring 2 cups of chicken stock, 4 tbs. of butter and the saffron water to a boil. Then remove pan from heat, and stir in couscous and cover. Allow it to sit until stock is absorbed and couscous becomes tender, about 5 minutes. 
  4. In the meantime, add pine nuts to a dry skillet/pan and toast until pine nuts become partially golden, stirring frequently. When couscous is tender, fluff with a fork and stir in toasted pine nuts, 2 tbs. extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, freshly chopped cilantro, and salt to taste. Serve roasted birds immediately with couscous.

Jenny Nguyen Wheatley is associate editor at Nebraskaland Magazine and a frequent contributor to Quail Forever Journal. She and her husband run the wild game cooking blog

This story originally appeared in the Winter 2022 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!