Quail, a mid-sized game bird, was prolific across the South in the first half of the 20th century. From Texas to Georgia, a generation of Southerners roamed the outdoors, shotgun in hand and dog at their side, in search of the brown bird. Avid quail hunters included author and legendary sportsman Ernest Hemingway.
The tradition of quail hunting goes back to the antebellum South and is as Southern as BBQ, college football and sweet tea. Unfortunately, the quail population has declined since the 1970s due to their short lifespan, predators and overhunting. The good news? You can still visit lodges, like the Pine Hill Plantation, and attend a guided quail hunt.
While quail hunting may not be as popular as it was in Hemingway’s day, quail remains a mainstay of Southern dinner tables. Fried quail is crunchy, salty and juicy. The taste is similar to fried chicken and can be eaten with your hands — forget forks and knives. For an extra hint of tang and moisture, soak the quail in buttermilk overnight with some paprika, cayenne and garlic powder. The flavors will shine after you fry the bird.
When planning your meal, keep in mind that these game birds are on the small side, so aim for two or three per person. You can serve the quails with biscuits, a side of mashed potatoes, cole slaw, cornbread or collard greens. This delicacy is the perfect hearty lunch on a late Sunday afternoon. Here’s how to make it:
10 to 12 quail
2 cups water
3 tablespoons vegetable shortening
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups milk
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
Season the quail with salt and pepper. Place in a large skillet, preferably cast iron. Add water to cover the birds halfway, about 2 cups. Bring to a boil over high heat. Cover with a tight-fitting lid and reduce the heat to simmer. Cook until the birds are tender, about 45 minutes.
Remove the lid and increase the heat to medium high. Add vegetable shortening. Once the liquid has just about evaporated, return the lid to the skillet (the shortening and water will pop and spatter). Continue cooking the birds, turning occasionally until browned, about 15 minutes.
Remove the quail to a warm platter. Add flour to skillet and stir to combine. Cook until pale brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Add milk. Bring to a boil over high heat. Cook until the sauce coats the back of a spoon. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Return quail to skillet and turn to coat. Serve immediately with hot biscuits.