Nashville has its hot chicken, and it works for quail too, but the Carolinas go in a different direction when it comes to flavoring yard birds. In both North and South Carolina, the marinade of choice is a vinegar-based pickling solution. We tweaked the classic recipe a bit to customize it for quail and it's a winner.
The recipe starts with a mixture of apple cider and white vinegars, water and some of the same pickling spices you would use when making crispy dills from the cucumbers in your garden. Since quail are a bit more delicate than the average chicken, we cut the brine time back to two hours for a lighter vinegar flavor. From there, the whole plucked birds move to a buttermilk soak to both add more flavor and tenderize the quail. To add a little crunch and texture to the coating mix, use a blend of seasoned flour and cornmeal.
For me, a fried quail meal isn’t complete without collard greens and cornbread. The collards in this recipe get added to a pot of hot bacon grease to slowly cook down. Just before serving, they get a sprinkle of red pepper flakes and a splash of vinegar to brighten the flavor and compliment the quail.
10 quail, plucked
4 cups water
2 cups white vinegar
1 cup apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons mustard seed
1 tablespoon coriander seed
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 spring of fresh dill
1 quart buttermilk
1.5 cups seasoned flour
1 cup fine cornmeal
1 teaspoon black pepper
Peanut oil for frying
2 bags (16 ounces each) of prepackaged collard greens
4 slices bacon, diced
1 Tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon or so of white vinegar
Start by mixing the brine ingredients in a large bowl. Add the quail and refrigerate for two hours. Remove the quail after brining and rinse under running water. Pour the buttermilk into a bowl and add the quail. Let the quail soak in the buttermilk for 30 minutes.
When the quail go in the buttermilk, start the diced bacon in a large pot with a tight-fitting lid. Once the bacon is brown and crisp, add all of the collards to the pot. It will seem like a lot, but just push them down until they are all in. Place the lid on the pot and cook over medium heat until the greens start to wilt. Add the salt to the pot and stir the greens well to blend in the bacon pieces. Continue cooking over low heat until the greens are soft, about 45 minutes. Just before serving, blend in the red pepper flakes and splash the vinegar over the greens as a dressing.
Remove the quail from the buttermilk and roll in the coating mixture. Let the quail rest for 5 to 10 minutes to allow the breading mixture to set up. This helps it stick to the skin while frying.
Pour about an inch of peanut oil into a heavy cast iron pan. Heat to 350 degrees. Carefully drop the quail into the grease, taking care not to crowd the pan. Fry the quail until cooked all the way through, about 10 minutes for medium-sized birds. Remove the quail from the hot oil and drain on a paper towel-lined platter.
Serve the fried quail over a bed of collard greens and add a wedge of your favorite cornbread recipe to round everything out.
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