Bird Is the Word

Instead of the cop-out chicken dish, branch out and try some quail.

Illustration by Maïté Franchi

For a lot of chefs, chicken is the equivalent of a culinary cop-out. It’s an amateur order, for sure, but no menu would be complete without it, right? “Well, we always like to have some kind of poultry on the menu,” admits Sotto’s chef de cuisine, Danny Combs. “But we know that people also want to eat things they don’t get at home, so we try to find a balance between intriguing our guests but keeping it familiar. Not a lot of people get quail at home, so they really enjoy it.” Combs orders his quail from Manchester Farm in South Carolina, where all birds are butchered by hand. They arrive to his kitchen with leg and thigh bones intact, but a boned-out breast cavity. “We grill the birds evenly on both sides so that the bottom half isn’t overdone. It also has to rest properly. The flame has to be under control too. In fact, the flame is almost an ingredient of its own in this dish, it’s that important.” Combs explains that finding the ideal cooking method and time can be challenging when trying out a new dish. “We’ve definitely eaten our fair share of mistakes at the end of the night.”

Grilled Quail À La Combs

  1. Remove from packing and carefully release the wire that holds the bird in shape.
  2. Rinse and pat the bird dry.
  3. Make a quick marinade with olive oil, minced garlic, orange zest, chopped fennel fronds, and a little fennel pollen. Toss the quail with the marinade, salt, and pepper, and marinate in the fridge for 2–3 hours. Allow the mixture to come to room temperature before grilling.
  4. Grill for two and a half minutes on each side, making sure that legs get plenty of direct heat. Remove from the grill and let the quail rest for about five minutes before serving.

Check out our Best Restaurants 2017 review of Sotto

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