This is a recipe for a Vietnamese-inspired dish featuring fried quail coated in a crisp batter and tossed in a tangy, spicy tamarind sauce.
Picture large, brown legumes hanging from trees. You’d think these oddly placed pods would taste like peas or some sort of bean, but tamarind is nothing like that. Inside each pod, you’ll find hard, glossy black seeds. However, it’s the brown pulp that’s most interesting. It’s dense, sticky, and tastes distinctively tangy. In Southeast Asian cooking, tamarind is a versatile fruit, able to welcome layers of sweet, salty, and spicy all at once. It’s often combined with ingredients such as sugar, salt, fish sauce, and chili to make anything from candies and sweets to the savory, tangy base in pad Thai noodles.
In the Vietnamese bar scene, fried chicken wings are tossed in a tamarind sauce. Here’s my East-meets-West take on this popular Vietnamese beer-drinking food featuring fresh quail meat. The fried-chicken-type coating adds a welcome crispiness to the quail before being tossed with the piquant tamarind sauce.
Tamarind Fried Quail – Vietnamese Beer-Drinking Food
- Separate each quail into halves by cutting each bird down the middle of the breasts and back. Poke a toothpick through the thigh and breast to make them easier to handle when frying. Place the quail in a large bowl and submerge them in buttermilk. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
- To make the tamarind sauce, sauté garlic and 1 tsp. oil in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat for 30 seconds until fragrant. Then add the remaining sauce ingredients and stir to dissolve until there are no lumps. Next, push the sauce through a fine-mesh strainer to remove remaining tamarind seeds and shells. Season to taste, and set sauce aside.
- Fill a heavy-bottomed, 10-inch frying pan halfway with oil and heat to 325°. Meanwhile, combine 1 cup flour, ¼ tsp. paprika, ¼ tsp. ground black pepper, and 1 tsp. fine sea salt in a wide, shallow bowl. Remove quail from the buttermilk and set on a large rimmed cookie sheet; do not pat dry. Generously season quail with salt.
- When the oil approaches 325 degrees, generously coat the wet birds in the flour mixture. Carefully lay them breast-side down in the hot oil without crowding the pan. Fry your quail until they’re golden brown and then flip them to fry the other side. Repeat with the remaining quail, adjusting heat as needed. Drain the cooked quail on a frying rack and keep them warm in the oven.
- If needed, add more water to thin out your tamarind sauce. Before serving, toss or brush the fried quail with the sauce. Warn your dining guests about the toothpicks.
Jenny Nguyen-Wheatley is an outdoor writer, photographer and editor in Nebraska. Jenny founded Food for Hunters in 2011. Find her wild game recipes in numerous hunting and fishing publications.