The key to success in this recipe is to have the oven very hot when you put the birds in to roast. This creates a tandoori effect — the quail get crisp on the outside while remaining tender and juicy inside.
Have your butcher spatchcock the quail if possible — ask him to cut each bird open through the backbone and flatten it out. If you’re in France ask for the birds to be prepared en crapaudine. Instructions for doing this yourself are below. If you substitute cornish game hen, increase the roasting time to 30 minutes.
2 quail or 2 cornish game hen
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. ground coriander seeds
1 clove garlic, peeled and finely minced
fresh herbs: dill, cilantro, parsley or mint
If you need to spatchcock the birds yourself, turn them breast side down on a cutting board. With a very sharp knife or, preferably, a scissors, cut through the birds from neck to tail along the backbone. Then gently open them and flatten them out completely.
Oil a roasting dish. Preheat the oven to gas mark 8 (450 F, 230 C).
In a small dish, mix together the olive oil, cumin, coriander and garlic. You will get best results if you grind the coriander seeds yourself in a spice grinder. An electric coffee grinder also works beautifully.
Using a cooking brush or just your hands, cover the birds completely with this sauce. Set them in the roasting pan and allow them to marinate for a while — at least the time it takes for the oven to heat up. In fact you may prepare the birds up to this point early in the day and let them marinate in the fridge until you are ready to cook them.
When the oven is hot, roast the quail for 20 minutes. Season with salt to taste. Serve immediately on plates garnished with fresh herbs. Serves 2.
A good side dish for quail is couscous. Simply follow the instructions on the packet and add a little butter, or pour the quail drippings over the grain.