Tanya Holland’s Mustard Barbecue-Roasted Quail

A sharp, sweet, tangy Southern-style barbecue sauce and boozy cherries make this quail dish a standout.
A sharp, sweet, tangy Southern-style barbecue sauce and boozy cherries make this quail dish a standout.

Chef Tanya Holland may have left behind the hustle and bustle of the restaurant industry in 2021 with the closure of her Brown Sugar Kitchen in Oakland, whose superlative fried chicken and waffles prompted a never-ending line of diners eager to enjoy comforting soul food at its best.

Thankfully, though, her cooking and community championing continue on in her new cookbook, “California Soul” (Ten Speed Press), of which I received a review copy.

It was written with Maria C. Hunt, a California-based journalist who specializes in cultural stories about food, wine, and lifestyle; and Dr. Kelley Fanto Deetz, who holds a PhD in African diaspora studies and anthropology from the University of California at Berkeley.

It’s a cookbook not just of recipes, but of stories, that reflect the struggles and triumphs of African Americans who migrated from the South to California. Holland knows first-hand that journey, being the daughter of a mother who grew up in Louisiana, and a father who hails from Virginia. As a child, Holland spent many summers in both states, immersed in the gardening and cooking traditions of her grandparents.

Her great-aunts would make their way to Oregon and Southern California. Holland, herself, would move to the Bay Area in 2001, drawn to the fact, she writes, that “California offered an openness to ambition (female and Black) thought leaders and entrepreneurs that I hadn’t experienced on the East Coast.”

Indeed, the book spotlights Black California farmers, coffee roasters, and foodmakers. More than 80 recipes provide a taste of California’s impeccable bounty married with heartfelt Southern traditions. Get hungry for everything from “Dirty Potato Salad with All the Peppers and Onions,” “Grilled Rack of California Lamb with Collard-Almond Pesto,” and “Watermelon Pisco” to “New Orleans Barbecued Black Cod,” “Congee with Scallions, Toasted Peanuts, and Virginia Ham,” and “Honey Lavender Chess Pie.”

I zeroed in on her “Mustard Barbecue-Roasted Quail.” I wish more grocery stores carried quail regularly because they cook up fast. They’re so flavorful on their own that I usually just add salt and pepper, and nothing else.

So, I was intrigued by her preparation that pays homage to California’s state bird by adding a sweet-sharp barbecue sauce straight out of the Carolinas. Holland adds a few more frills, none of which are fussy or difficult to make. They include fried sage leaves that are so good you may find yourself popping a few into your mouth even before dinner is served; and dried cherries soaked in bourbon that add a sweet boozy note.

The recipe calls for eight quail to serve four. But you can easily halve the recipe, if you like, particularly if you usually serve just one quail per person as I do.

Just stir together the barbecue sauce by combining yellow mustard (Dijon actually works just fine, too), sherry vinegar, honey, Worcestershire sauce, garlic powder, and onion powder. Reserve a little bit to spoon over the birds after cooking, and use the rest to smear liberally all over the quail before roasting them in the oven.

The fresh sage leaves turn crisp in a few seconds in some oil in a pan. The dried cherries need only to be simmered for 5 minutes with water, bourbon, and honey.

The crispy sage leaves are so addictive, you may just want to make extra to snack on.
The crispy sage leaves are so addictive, you may just want to make extra to snack on.

Plate the quail, drizzle on more barbecue sauce, sprinkle on the sage leaves, and spoon over the now-plump cherries.

The quail is deliciously moist and revved up with the tangy-piquant barbecue sauce whose sweetness is played up by the cherries that taste of vanilla, thanks to the bourbon.

It’s a dish that makes any day a celebration.

Mustard Barbecue-Roasted Quail

(Serves 4)

For mustard barbecue sauce:

1/2 cup yellow mustard

1 tablespoon sherry vinegar

2 tablespoons honey

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon onion powder

Salt and freshly ground pepper

For the quail:

8 California quail (two 1-pound packages)

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

8 fresh sage leaves

For the bourbon-soaked cherries:

1/4 cup water

1/4 cup bourbon

1 tablespoon honey

1/4 cup dried cherries

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Place a wire rack on a half-sheet pan. Spray the rack with nonstick cooking spray.

To make the sauce: In a bowl, mix together the mustard, vinegar, honey, Worcestershire sauce, garlic powder, and onion powder. Season with salt and pepper.

Place the quail on the rack. Season with salt and pepper and tie their legs together with cooking twine. Reserve 1/4 up of the mustard barbecue sauce. Generously brush the remaining barbecue sauce all over the quail, inside and out. Place the quail in the oven and roast just until they’re cooked through, 15 to 20 minutes.

When the quail roasts, heat the olive oil in a small saute pan over medium-high heat. Carefully add the sage leaves (they may pop and spit a bit) and fry just until they turn crispy, about 30 seconds. Transfer from the oil to a paper towel to drain.

To make the cherries: Combine the water, bourbon, and honey in a small saucepan over medium heat. Bring just to a simmer. Remove from the heat and add the cherries. Let soak for 5 minutes.

Remove the quail from the oven and drizzle with the reserved barbecue sauce. Top with the crispy sage leaves and sprinkle with the cherries.

From “California Soul” by Tanya Holland

Another Tanya Holland Recipe to Enjoy: Spiced Sweet Potato Bundt Cake

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