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Lemongrass Grilled Quail

Lemongrass Grilled Quail

A Vietnamese cooking technique uses fish sauce to deliver beautifully cooked quail meat that is never dry.

Bon Appetit Magazine recently published a story about adding sugar to meat. The combination of sugar and salt enhances flavor, improves browning, and makes meat more tender. Well, Vietnamese people have been adding sugar to meat for ages, with the addition of fish sauce and herbs, such as garlic, shallots and lemongrass. 

In Vietnamese cooking, fish sauce (used sparingly) often replaces salt, which adds an explosion of umami without tasting fishy. Sugar caramelizes the meat beautifully and imparts a balanced sweetness to the slightly charred meat. One well known sweet and salty Vietnamese dish is marinated pork shoulder chops served with white rice and salad. I ate it quite often while growing up. It was so easy to prepare, my mom had it on regular rotation. Never dry, Mom’s pork chops were always juicy and mouthwatering, and since leaving home, I’ve applied this technique to all sorts of meat, most notably wild game. 

This combination of fish sauce and sugar acts as both a marinade and brine. It’s flavorful enough that 30 minutes will work its magic on quail, but I find four hours to be the sweet spot. However, you can marinate it longer for saltier meat. I separated the legs and cut open the back to flatten the breasts, because the more surface area you can expose to the marinade, the better. This dish is typically eaten with a fork and knife, so for a better experience at the table, I recommend deboning the breasts. 

Lemongrass Grilled Quail plated with rice, tomatoes, lettuce, and cucumber in traditional Vietnamese style

Lemongrass Grilled Quail

A Vietnamese cooking technique uses fish sauce to deliver beautifully cooked quail meat that is never dry.
5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 45 minutes
Course Main Course
Cuisine Vietnamese
Servings 4


  • 8 whole Quail
  • 4 servings Cooked Jasmine rice
  • Lettuce
  • Sliced tomato
  • Sliced cucumber



  • 1 clove of garlic minced
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • tbsp fish sauce
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 tsp Sambal Oelek ground fresh chili paste or to taste
  • Juice from half a lime


  • Separate the legs from each quail. Cut out their backs and flatten the breasts with the palm of your hand. To make quail easier to serve with rice, I recommend deboning the breasts.
  • Remove the tough outer layers of lemongrass and mince the tender lower third of the stalk. Your knife shouldn’t have to work too hard to cut into the tender part. Although the outer layers are edible, they’re too woody to eat.
  • Place minced lemongrass in a medium mixing bowl along with the remaining marinade ingredients. Add quail legs and breasts, cover, and marinate for at least 30 minutes, but no longer than eight hours. Stir it halfway through marinating.
    Traditional Vietnamese marinade for quail
  • In a bowl, combine sauce ingredients and set aside. When ready to cook the quail, prepare the grill for medium-high heat cooking. Remove the quail legs and breasts from the marinade and lightly coat them with oil. Grill skin-side down first until it’s golden brown, flip, and cook through on the other side, about 10-15 minutes total.
  • Serve quail with hot white rice, lettuce, tomato and cucumber. Drizzle salad and rice with sauce to taste.
Keyword Quail
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