Quaglie coi piselli (Quail Braised with Peas)

Quaglie al tegame coi piselli

I love chicken, but I find it a shame that so many people overlook all the other edible birds out there: duck, goose, turkey, pigeon, guinea fowl, Cornish hens and—last but not least—quail, just to name a few. Most of these can be hard to find these days, as supermarkets have, for the most part, succumbed to the tyranny of the chicken. Still, turkey is easy enough to find (it’s well worth seeking out even when it’s not Thanksgiving!) and you can sometimes find one of the other birds, if not fresh then frozen. And thank heaven for the internet, where D’Artagan offers quail and other ‘gourmet poultry’ online.

Small birds like quail or Cornish hens are especially suited, to my taste, for light, elegant meals. Quail don’t offer a lot of meat, but they have a wonderfully delicate taste. And if you can’t find them, a small Cornish hen will work in any recipe calling for quail, including this one: quail braised in white wine with young spring peas and pancetta. The peas lend their sweetness and the pancetta it savoriness. Quail is a lean bird, but slow, moist heat keeps it nice and juicy. The peas are braised along with the bird, for enough time for them to cook and absorb the wonderful juices. There’s no real sauce, but if you take a bit of bird, pancetta and peas with each bite, and you won’t miss it.


For 6 persons

  •  6 quail or 3 Cornish hens, split down the middle lengthwise
  • 100g (3-1/2 oz) pancetta, cut into cubes
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic, lightly crushed
  • Dry white wine
  • 500g (16 oz) peas, frozen or fresh and shelled
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper


If using the Cornish hens, split them down the middle, through the breast bone and down through the backbone, then lay them on their sides, skin side up, and give them all a good thumping with the bottom of a skillet to flatten them out.

In a sauté pan or braiser large enough to hold all the birds in a single layer, sauté the pancetta gently in olive oil until the fat is translucent. Raise the heat and add the birds and the garlic. Brown the birds nicely on both sides. Season them with salt and pepper on both sides, turning all the while in the oil. Then add a splash of white wine.

Cover the pan and lower the heat to a gentle simmer. Let the birds braise for about 30 minutes, turning them from time to time. If you find the pan is drying out, add a bit more wine or water as you go.

If using fresh peas, add them about halfway through; if using fresh peas, add them about 5 minutes before the end.

Optional: If you like your skin brown and crispy like I do, remove the birds from the pan and run them under a hot broiler for a few minutes, until nice and golden.

Serve the birds on a bed of the braised peas.


For this Sunday’s dinner, I couldn’t find quail at the local supermarket so I used some small Cornish hens, and they were perfectly delicious made this way. If using quail, you can stuff them with a bit of pancetta and a few rosemary leaves and a peppercorn or two, for extra flavor.

The dish can also be made in rosso—with a tomato sauce—by adding a small can of tomatoes, crushed with your hands as you drop them into the pan, right after the wine. You could also go in another direction entirely: substitute shallots for the garlic, use butter instead of olive oil (or in combination) and add a good pour of heavy cream at the end, letting it reduce to a saucy consistency before serving.

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21 Responses to “Quaglie coi piselli (Quail Braised with Peas)”

  1. 27 May 2013 at 08:38 #

    Frank, did you ever visit a place in Rome’s Quarticciolo neighborhood called Tiberio er qualiaro? It’s a classic old-school Roman eatery, famous for its quail, among other things. We haven’t been there since the late 90s and we understand that its changed some and old Tiberio has finally retired. Still, it would be fun to return someday.

  2. 21 May 2013 at 15:32 #

    Delicious!! I love how you used cornish hens instead. My favorite!

  3. ameliaschaffner
    21 May 2013 at 09:55 #

    Frank: this brings back memories from home… che piatto! what a dish!!!

  4. 2 May 2013 at 20:25 #

    Frank, what an elegant dish. I have never eaten quail. Chicken is the smallest the smallet bird I have ever consumed, but you’ve got me wanting to try this. Thanks!

    • 3 May 2013 at 09:39 #

      You really have to try quail, it’s a really delicious and elegant bird! Cornish hen ain’t half bad, either…

  5. 2 May 2013 at 08:27 #

    Quail appears here in the fall (when Minnesotans bird-hunt). It is lovely to see a different bird! (I use too much chicken.) It is sweetly elegant for Sunday. Sunday doesn’t always have to be pasta…

    • 3 May 2013 at 09:37 #

      So right, Claudia. Of course, if you’re like me, you can have pasta *and* quail…

  6. 30 April 2013 at 08:03 #

    I so agree, Frank! Quail are fast and easy to make and so delicious. They are a great change from chicken. I love eating them and coming up with new recipes for them.. they are even easy to get online for those of us who don’t go out shooting our dinners!

    • 3 May 2013 at 09:31 #

      Gotta love quail! Your favorite D’Artagnan sells them online–thanks for reminding me, I’ve added a link. They’re such a great resource.

  7. 30 April 2013 at 06:26 #

    Love the expression “the tyranny of the chicken.” And it is appropriate. My mother used to make faraone several times a year and I’ve had both pigeon and quail. Great combination with peas cooked my favorite way.

    • 30 April 2013 at 07:52 #

      Thanks, Simona. The expression reflects how I feel. Nice to see that others feel the same way.

  8. ciaochowlinda
    29 April 2013 at 16:12 #

    As always, another tempting treat from you Frank. I have never tried cooking quail, but will seek it out. If it’s anything like Cornish hens, I’m on board with that.

    • 30 April 2013 at 07:53 #

      I think you’ll enjoy it, Linda. Some people find they have too little meat vs bone, but what meat there is is very tasty!

  9. Susan
    29 April 2013 at 07:08 #

    Hmmm….this reminds me a lot of a typical French recipe: “pigeons aux petits pois”. I also love small birds so I can imagine that quail work very well as a pigeon substitute in the version I know.

    Thanks for sharing – your recipes are a great source of inspiration :-)

    • 30 April 2013 at 07:54 #

      The recipe is indeed very similar, just with more Italian ingredients. I am sure that they are related somehow if one were inclined to look into it. Thanks for your readership, Susan!

  10. 29 April 2013 at 05:06 #

    I have to admit it is one of the reasons I love living in Italy, where quails, guinea fowl, cornish hens etc. are even easy to find fresh at the supermarket.

    • 29 April 2013 at 06:27 #

      And that’s one of the reasons I miss living in Italy!

  11. María alejandra Hernández
    28 April 2013 at 19:26 #

    Hermoso!!!me encanta esta propuesta.

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