We love quail around here, but they aren’t as easy to find as they used to be. When we do come home with a few, we like to make the most of them. That means taking the time to pluck the birds whole instead of just breasting them out. The skin adds flavor to the finished product, and there is a surprising amount of meat tucked away on those little legs and thighs.
Plucking isn’t that difficult if you use this method, the feathers rub right off with just a little pressure. The secret is the water temperature. Right around 160 degrees Fahrenheit is the sweet spot. Much cooler than that and the feathers won’t loosen, any hotter and the skin starts to cook and gets so tender that it tears when you touch it.
An outdoor gas burner is perfect for the task. Just use your fish or turkey fryer, the side burner on your gas grill or a small gas stove like the Can Cooker Multi Fuel Cooktop. Use a digital or frying thermometer to monitor the temp. Keep an eye on it throughout the process, turning the heat up if it starts to cool or adding some cold water if it gets too warm.
1. Heat a pot of water to 160 degrees. A few degrees either way is OK, but try not to get any hotter than 165.
2. Grab the quail by the feet and dip it in the hot water. Swirl the bird around vigorously, bobbing it up and down as you do, to make sure the hot water is getting through the feathers to the skin. Total dip time should be around 30 seconds.
3. Use your fingers and thumbs to rub the feathers away. Push with the grain of the feathers and they should slide right out. If you find a dry spot or an area where the feathers won’t slide free easily, give the quail another quick dip in the hot water. Rinse the bird under running water. There will probably be a few quills left here and there, but they are easily cleaned up when you prep the birds for cooking.
4. Remove the head and lower legs from the plucked bird. Remove the tail and make a small incision at the lower part of the belly. Reach up into the body cavity with a couple fingers and pull the entrails free.
5. Save the heart, gizzard and livers from the quail. They make delicious seasoning bits when sautéed in butter. Use them in soups or stews, or blend them into your favorite Thanksgiving stuffing recipe. If you are processing several quail, you can even cook them up and serve as an appetizer.
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