Quick Bite: Early Bird Special
Practical and delicious, oyster-stuffed quail has graced local tables for generations
Though Charleston’s early settlers most likely imported the pairing of oysters and poultry from England, the bounty of tasty mollusks in the marshes and tidal creeks surrounding the peninsula has made the coupling commonplace on Holy City tables.
Oyster sauce—a mélange of minced, cooked oysters, their lightly thickened liquor, and cream—was once de rigueur with poached birds, especially turkeys. To this day, oyster dressing is almost guaranteed on Lowcountry Thanksgiving tables. But one of the most interesting combinations occurs when oysters are used to stuff small local game birds, particularly quail.
In this dish, the union has a practical side: Quail easily dries out when the least bit overcooked. But stuffing it with oysters, which shed their moisture as they cook, creates a natural internal baster, keeping the bird succulent and flavorful.
Though this charming dish is as old as our city, one of the first locally published recipes I found was contributed to Charleston Receipts (1950) by a Mrs. James Hagood (Antoinette Camp). Here is my own version, adapted from Classical Southern Cooking. To keep with tradition, serve the quail on toast as a game course.
- 8 dressed quail
- 2 dozen large oysters
- 1/4 cup fine white cornmeal or unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup butter, melted and cooled
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Ground cayenne pepper, optional
- 8 strips thick-sliced smoked bacon
Position a rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat it to 500°F. Wash and dry the quail. Drain the oysters in a colander over a bowl, saving their liquor for another use.
Spread the meal or flour on a plate. Dip each oyster in melted butter, roll it in meal, and shake off the excess. Stuff two to three oysters into the body cavity of each quail, completely filling it, and skewer it closed with a toothpick. Season the birds well with salt and pepper and, if desired, a touch of cayenne.
Wrap a strip of bacon around each bird, securing it with a second toothpick. Lay quail breast-side down in a close-fitting casserole dish and place in the oven. Immediately reduce the heat to 375°F and roast for 20 to 30 minutes, until the birds are just cooked through and the bacon is browned.