Smoky Masala Grilled Quail

The long-gone Rex Stores on Warden Road in Bombay had a marvelous sign that advertised “all kinds of wild games.” Wild games were not part of my family’s food scene, but in our San Francisco household, they’re welcome in any form. The spices in this masala paste are roasted before grinding, so that they lend a dark, smoky, campfire quality to the quail even if you sear it instead of grilling it.

Quail vary a bit in size. Some people eat less than one, some more than two, so I try to have enough to please everyone, with perhaps a little left over for the next day. I often serve this with polenta or grits or Firoza’s Khichri.


  • 12 quail
  • 6 dried red chiles
  • 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon black cumin seeds
  • ½ teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 2 teaspoons Ginger-Garlic Paste
  • 2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 ½ to 2 teaspoons salt


  • Snip the necks and wingtips off the quail. Butterfly the birds by cutting along the backbone with stout shears and opening them flat.
  • In a small heavy skillet over medium-high heat, toast the chiles, peppercorns, black cumin, and fennel seeds, keeping things moving until the spices begin to get dark but not burnt. (If they do burn, start over.) Remove at once and let the spices cool slightly before pulverizing them in a mill. Combine with the paste, pomegranate molasses, oil, and salt.
  • About 2 hours before grilling, rub the quail with this mixture. Grill over mediumhot coals for 8 to 10 minutes, until done to your liking.