Barbecued Thyme-Marinated Quail on a Salad of Sweetcorn, Aubergine, Red Chicory, Pear and Green Olives

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By Peter Gordon

Published 2005

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Quails are birds that you really need to get your fingers on to appreciate. They are obviously small, with bones that are sometimes annoying, but they are juicy and tasty when cooked properly. The rule of thumb is never to overcook them. If you can buy them boned out, then use those; if you can only find whole birds, then simply prepare them as follows.

Place them, one at a time, in the palm of your hand, breast side down. You’ll have the quail’s backbone facing up to you, running from the neck cavity to the abdomen cavity. Using a pair of scissors, cut along either side of the backbone, about a centimetre apart, and then pull the backbon out and away from the bird. Now lay the bird on a board, breast side up, and press it into the board to flatten it. This is called ‘spatchcocking’.

Although this recipe calls for barbecuing the quails and aubergines, you can also do it successfully in your kitchen on a heavy skillet or grill.


  • 8 quails, spatchcocked as above
  • small handful of fresh thyme on the stem (or 1 teaspoon dried thyme)
  • 1 garlic clove, thinly chopped or crushed
  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 corn cobs, outer husks removed
  • 2 medium aubergines
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 2 heads of red chicory (also called red endive)
  • 2 pears
  • handful of green olives
  • handful of cress or sprouts
  • 2 juicy lemons, halved


Put the quails into a large bowl and add the thyme, garlic, 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, all of the soy sauce and a little freshly ground pepper, then rub this all over the birds. Leave to marinate for 1 hour at room temperature (if the room is hot, then pop them in the fridge).

Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil and cook the corn cobs for 4–5 minutes (4 if they’re really fresh), then drain.

Cut the aubergines into slices about 1 cm thick and mix the sesame oil into the remaining oil. Brush 2 tablespoons of this oil over both sides of the aubergine slices and barbecue them on both sides until done. The aubergines are cooked when they are golden brown and you can easily push your finger into them. Remove and place on a plate.

Once the quails are ready to cook, take them from the marinade and cook on the barbecue, skin side up, over a moderate heat – too fierce and they may blacken on the outside without cooking on the inside. Turn over after 4 minutes; they should be nicely charred but definitely not burnt. Cook for around 2 minutes on the other side. The degree of heat you are cooking over and the fact that the quails may or may not be boned, will affect the cooking time. But, as with all birds on the bone, just poke a sharp knife into the thickest part, near the thigh bone, to see if it’s cooked through. The meat will look brown/red and have no signs of rawness. If the breasts are a little pink, all the better, as they will be juicy and tender. Once they’re cooked, remove them from the barbecue and place on a plate.

Cut the corn into rounds about 1 cm thick. Cut the bases from the chicory heads and separate all the leaves. Remove the cores from the pears and peel if you want to, then cut each into 8 wedges.

To Serve

Place the corn and aubergine on 4 plates. Mix the chicory, pears, olives, cress or sprouts and remaining oil in a bowl, then sit this salad on top. Cut the quails in half lengthways, then remove the legs from the breasts and sit 2 quartered birds on top of each plate of salad. Serve with a wedge of lemon.