Roasted Quail with Israeli Couscous, Black Mission Figs, and Bacon Vinaigrette

Roasted Quail with Israeli Couscous, Black Mission Figs, and Bacon VinaigretteIn this colorful dish, crisp, browned quail sit atop a nest of pearly white pasta flecked with green, wilted arugula, copper-colored bacon bits, and dark figs—all garnished with bright orange zest. The smoky bacon, sweet dried fruit, and tangy zest serve well as a backdrop for these small, meaty birds.

Israeli couscous, sometimes referred to as pearl couscous, bears little resemblance to traditional yellow, tiny-grained North African couscous. The Israeli version is a pasta with larger white grains that look like barley or small peas. It has a creamy-soft mouth-feel and a nutty flavor. It’s also quite easy to cook. This dish is also delicious when prepared with lentils, particularly the French green du Puy variety. Note that lentils, unlike the couscous below, should not be browned prior to cooking. Lentils also require a longer cooking time, 30-40 minutes.

Aside from marinating the quail, this entire recipe can be prepared in under an hour. The birds are best when marinated at least 4 hours in advance, and preferably overnight. However, if you run out of time or just forget to plan in advance, a shorter marinating time will still yield reasonably good results.

The bold flavors in this recipe cry out for similarly fruity, bold flavors in red wines such as Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, and Syrah. In addition, the pretty cherry qualities found in Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier would make them fine pairing candidates. Or try a fruity, dry rosé.

4 quail, boned

9 tbsp/135 ml extra-virgin olive oil

4 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped

1 tbsp dried thyme, plus 1 tsp

1 cup/115 g pearl onions

1 cup/115 g Israeli (pearl) couscous

Salt and freshly ground pepper

2 cups/480 ml boiling water

6–8 dried black mission figs, stemmed and quartered

3 bacon/streaky bacon slices, cut crosswise into matchsticks about 1/4 in/6 mm thick

1 large egg yolk

1 tsp sherry vinegar

1 tsp honey

1 tbsp Dijon mustard

2 cups/55 g arugula/rocket, tough stems removed

Zest of 1 orange, minced

In a zippered plastic bag or plastic container with a tight-fitting lid, combine the quail, 4 tbsp/60 ml of the olive oil, the garlic, and the 1 tbsp thyme and turn the birds to coat thoroughly with the marinade. Seal the bag or container and let marinate in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours and up to overnight.

Preheat the oven to 400°F/200°C/gas 6.

Using a paring knife, cut a small X in the root end of each pearl onion and remove the skins. In a saucepan, bring 2 cups/480 ml water to a boil over high heat. Plunge the onions into the boiling water and cook for 1 minute. Drain in a colander and immediately rinse under cold running water to cool. When cool, gently squeeze the onions from their skins. Set aside.

In a medium saucepan, heat 1 tbsp of the olive oil over medium heat. Add the couscous and sauté until about half of the grains are lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add a pinch of salt and the boiling water. Return the water to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer until all the liquid has been absorbed, 10–12 minutes. Remove from the heat. Uncover, place the figs on top of the hot the couscous, re-cover the pan, and set aside.

In a large frying pan, cook the bacon over medium-high heat until crisp, about 3 minutes. Remove the bacon bits with a slotted spoon and reserve. Pour the hot bacon grease from the pan into a small bowl and reserve. Return the same pan (without cleaning it) to the stovetop over medium-low heat. Add 1 tbsp of the olive oil and the onions. Sauté until the onions are lightly browned on all sides, about 10 minutes.

While the onions are cooking, make the bacon vinaigrette. In a small bowl, combine the egg yolk, vinegar, honey, mustard, 1 tbsp of the olive oil, the reserved bacon fat, and the 1 tsp dried thyme. Whisk together until thickened and emulsified and set aside.

When the onions are browned, add 2 tbsp water to the pan and use a wooden spoon to scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Add the couscous and figs. Fold in the bacon vinaigrette, the reserved bacon bits, and the arugula/rocket and stir gently until the arugula has wilted and all the ingredients are well blended. Remove from the heat. Season with salt and pepper to taste, cover, and set aside.

Remove the quail from the marinade and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. In a large, ovenproof frying pan or Dutch oven, heat the remaining 2 tbsp olive oil over medium-high heat. When the oil begins to shimmer, place the quail in the pan, breast-side down, and sear until lightly browned, 2–3 minutes. Transfer the pan to the oven and roast until the birds loose their translucent, milky color on top, 12–15 minutes.

To serve, divide the couscous mixture among warmed plates, mounding it in the center. (The couscous will be warm. If you want it hotter, reheat it on the stovetop for a minute or 2 prior to serving.) Arrange a quail, breast-side up, on each plate, leaning it at an angle against the bed of couscous. Garnish the contents of the plates with salt and freshly ground pepper and the orange zest. Serve at once.

Serves 4


In a small sauté pan, over medium-low heat, combine the 1/2 cup chervil leaves with the 1/2 cup olive oil and cook, stirring occasionally, until the oil is hot and small bubbles form around edges, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand at room temperature for 1 hour. Strain the chervil-infused oil through a fine-mesh sieve, save and reserve. Discard the chervil.
In a soup pot, heat the 2 tbsp olive oil over medium heat. Add the leek and sauté until soft, about 3 minutes. Stir in the onion, garlic, and jalapeño. Sauté until the onion is translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the potatoes and red bell pepper and sauté for 3 minutes longer. Add the stock, clam juice, wine, and 1 tsp salt, and mix well. Raise heat to high and bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, cover and simmer until the potatoes are tender, about 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, cut the corn kernels from the ears of corn. Add the corn kernels to the soup and simmer until the corn is tender, about 5 minutes. Add the crab and cook for 2 more minutes to heat through. Stir in the cream and remove from heat. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.
Ladle the bisque into warm bowls. Swirl 1/2 to 1 tsp chervil oil into each serving and garnish with the 2 tbsp chervil leaves. Serve hot.