Roast Quail With Fennel

This image courtesy of Johnny Miller

I must confess that when I was in Syria I ordered and ate roast sparrows. They were delicious. At home, I do a similar thing with the equally small quail. The birds are often sold frozen, four to a package. If they don’t show up butterflied, cut along the length of the backbone, with kitchen shears, open them out, and flatten them. Teff (see Notes) would go well with this dish. 


Teff is the smallest grain in the world, measuring only 1/32 inch in diameter. Traditionally used to make the Ethiopian flatbread injera, teff flour comes from the grain of an annual grass cultivated in the horn of Africa. Teff has a favorable nutritional profile as it is both gluten-free and loaded with iron and all eight essential amino acids. It also provides calcium, protein, and dietary fiber. The grain itself has a nutty and slightly funky taste. Teff flour can be used in both savory and sweet preparations, and it can be cooked with water like a polenta to make an alternative starchy side dish. It also can be combined with chestnut flour in sweet preparations or for baking as it adds elasticity to doughs. 

Lemon Zesty Spice Mix:

Another spice mix I whipped up and like to keep on hand. Think fish and chicken as well as desserts. Multiply and store in a plastic container in the refrigerator.

½ teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon anise seed

6 whole black peppercorns

Two 3-inch strips fresh lemon zest

Place all the ingredients in a mini food processor or coffee grinder and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse sand.

Makes 1 Generous Teaspoon

Serves4 as a first course, 2 as a main course

Cooking Methodroasting


Total Timeunder 30 minutes

OccasionCasual Dinner Party, Formal Dinner Party

Recipe Courseappetizer, main course

Dietary Considerationegg-free, gluten-free, halal, kosher, lactose-free, peanut free, soy free, tree nut free


Taste and Texturemeaty, salty, spiced


  • 1 large fennel bulb (1 pound), tops trimmed off, cut lengthwise through the core into 1/8-inch-thick slices so the core holds each slice in a whole piece
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons Lemon Zesty Spice Mix (see Notes)
  • 4 whole quails (3 to 4 ounces each), thawed if necessary and butterflied


  1. Heat the oven to 500°F with a rack in the center.

  2. Place the fennel slices in a 14-x-12-x-2-inch roasting pan. Drizzle the oil over the slices and turn until coated evenly. Arrange the slices in a single layer. Sprinkle with the salt. Roast for 10 minutes.

  3. Rub the spice mixture over both sides of each quail. Set aside.

  4. Remove the roasting pan from the oven and carefully turn the fennel with a spatula, pushing the pieces to the sides of the pan. Place the quails breast side up in the center aisle of the pan and roast for 5 minutes. Turn them over and roast for another 5 minutes.


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