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Quail Wrapped in Clay from The Fiery Cross

Quail Wrapped in Clay from The Fiery Cross

The Fiery Cross

Dirty fighting is the only kind there is, Fraser had told him, panting, as they knelt at the stream and splashed cold water over sweating faces.  Anything else is no but exhibition.

His head jerked on his neck and he blinked, coming back abruptly from the grate and crash of wooden swords to the dim warmth of the cabin.  The platter was gone; Brianna was cursing softly under her breath at the sideboard, banging the hilt of his dirk against the blackened lumps of clay-baked quail to crack them open.

Watch your footing.  Back, back — aye, now, come back at me!  No, dinna reach so far…keep your guard up!

And the stinging whap! of the springy “blade” across arms and thighs and shoulders, the solid thunk of it driven bruising home between his ribs, sunk deep and breathless in his belly.  Had it been cold steel, he would have been dead in minutes, cut to bleeding ribbons.

Don’t catch the blade on yours — throw it off.  Beat, beat it off!  Come at me, thrust!  Keep it close, keep it close…aye, good…ha!

His elbow slipped and his head fell.  He jerked upright, barely keeping hold of the sleeping child, and blinked, vision swimming with firelight.

Diana Gabaldon, The Fiery Cross (Chapter 87 – En Garde)

Poor, Poor Roger.  Never mind the multitude of tortures he undergoes in less than a decade of 18th Century life, (even if it is just his Father in Law teaching him a few tricks), he’s stuck picking out bits of clay from beneath teeny-tiny wings just to get enough sustenance for his next day’s trials.

Or at least that’s what I used to imagine when it came to quail wrapped in clay and baked in the embers of a fire.

The reality was a pleasant surprise to both me and My Englishman.


I spatchcocked the quail, to get rid of some of the gnarlier bones (quails are bony little birdies), and to make the eating a little easier.  Spatchcocking involves cutting out the spine with a sharp pair of kitchen shears, and then flattening the breast bones of the birds by pressing gently but firmly with your palm until you hear the bones break.

I trimmed the loose skin and fat off each bird, snipped off the wing tips, then folded it in half over a sprig of thyme and a curl of lemon peel and seasoned it liberally with salt and pepper.

I don’t know if Bree wrapped her quail in something before covering it in clay, but I decided it would be prudent for taste as well as teeth.  I used blanched leek greens, which lent another fabulous layer of flavour to the finished dish.  Banana leaves, corn husks, big leaves of kale or chard, or pieces of parchment would also work very well.

Quail wrapped in clay

On a bone-dry counter (otherwise it quickly turns to mud), I rolled out a lump of LEAD-FREE clay to a thickness of about 1/4″ and sandwiched the bird between 2 layers of leek.  Then, just like pottery class, I used my hands to cover the bird with the clay.  I brushed it with a little water to join the seams, and patched up holes as required.

The key to success is to squeeze and mold as much air out of the clay packages as you can.  Air pockets cause explosions in the fire…

Quail wrapped in clay

I built a fire out of this year’s winter windstorm debris in the backyard and, once I had a good bed of coals, tucked the clay wrapped quail into the embers and away from direct flame.

If outdoor burning is banned in your area, you could fire up a pile of briquettes in a BBQ instead.

Quail wrapped in clay

You can see that I had one minor explosion — squeeze out those air pockets! — but the leek saved it from total disaster…in fact, the slightly charred skin and smoky meat was delicious.  As was the one that made it through the fire still whole, although it was more steamed than roasted.  The clay wrap results in a tender, moist and flavoured with whatever you wrap and stuff it with.

Suddenly, I don’t feel quite so sorry for Poor, Poor Roger anymore.

quail-cooked-open copy


  1. ruaTimeTraveler2
    March 27, 2012 at 6:27 am

    This is so cool!….I love the way you lay it all out…your pictures are always so good and I always enjoy reading the parts of the books you get the recipes from.
    Always very excited to see whats next!!! 🙂

  2. lionartcreation
    March 27, 2012 at 8:06 am

    I want to have dinner at your house! This sounds fun AND yummy. My way to cook!

    • Theresa
      March 27, 2012 at 10:03 am

      Yes, I can picture you hovering over the fire now, LeeAnn!

  3. The Suzzzz
    March 27, 2012 at 9:02 am

    Do you think that putting a hole or holes on the top side of the clay would prevent any explotions AND give it more of a smoked flavor? Or do you turn the quail over during the cooking process? We camp a lot and do a lot of dutch oven or foil packet meals and I want to try this as soon as it warms up and dries out.

    • Theresa
      March 27, 2012 at 9:59 am

      Suzzzzz! You definitely want to seal the package up tight. Holes will dry the bird out in the HOT fire. I didn’t bother to turn the quail over — and everything was very evenly cooked. Have fun with it, I know we did!

  4. Theresa
    March 27, 2012 at 10:00 am

    Thanks, Vickie! As a matter of fact, I did cook one more meal on that open fire…

  5. sunshineyness
    March 27, 2012 at 11:47 am

    Newbie to your blog but can I just say- your food photography is FANTASTIC.

    • Theresa
      March 27, 2012 at 12:20 pm

      Thank you so much! Enjoy the rest of your tour… 🙂

  6. ladyjohawk
    March 28, 2012 at 7:52 am

    well, not sure I will try this one, but thanks for all the photos and steps anyway. Maybe will try some chicken that way, summer is a coming…..but, just can not get past the clay. I have used clay pots and such that cook the food wonderful, so know that clay will cook evenly and such, think I might like the cleaner way thou. mmmm, I do use clay pans for my bread, and have cooked meat in a clay cassarol pan, and loved, loved the results…..okay maybe

    • Theresa
      March 31, 2012 at 10:27 pm

      I can see you’re tempted! 😉

  7. The Mom Chef
    April 2, 2012 at 10:04 am

    I’m so wanting to do this. I love the idea of wrapping the birds in clay, though I don’t know that I could do it with quail. I might have to try with chicken thighs or something. The leek idea is outstanding.

    • Theresa
      April 3, 2012 at 9:19 am

      Chicken thighs is a great idea, Christiane! If you do it, please let me know!

  8. brunyfire
    October 21, 2012 at 2:38 am

    Hi Theresa –
    I found your site by chance in my search for quail wrapped in clay. What a great idea to use a favourite author to inspire your contemporary culinary interpretations. Congratulations!


  9. Jessica
    November 14, 2012 at 5:34 pm

    In the book Jamie tells Bre/Claire (not sure which) to wrap the birds in clay and not to de-feather them or anything? How do you think that would work?

    • Theresa
      November 22, 2012 at 10:43 am

      the feathers stick to the clay and come off when you crack it open. 😀

  10. Jessica
    November 14, 2012 at 5:38 pm

    Ok just found this on another site…he talks about a mallard but I am sure a quail will work well and be quicker!

    Great to know you don’t have to worry about the feather! I have a friend raising quail for food…

    If you are cooking a mallard, or better still, a canvas-back. Cut off the head and most part of the neck; cut off the pinions and pull out the tail feathers, make a plastic cake of clay or tenacious earth an inch thick and large enough to envelop the bird and cover him with it snugly.

    Dig an oval pit just large enough to hold him, and fill it with hot coals, keeping up a strong heat. Just before turning in for the night, clean out the pit, put in the bird, cover with hot embers and coals, keeping up a brisk fire over it all night.

    When taken out in the morning you will have an oval, oblong mass of baked clay, with a well roasted bird inside. Let the mass cool until it can be handled, break off the clay, and feathers and skin will come with it, leaving the bird clean and skinless. Season it as you eat, with salt, pepper and a squeeze of lemon if you like, nothing else.

    In selecting salt, choose that which has a gritty feel when rubbed between the thumb and finger, and use white pepper rather than black, grinding the berry yourself. Procure a common tin pepper-box and fill it with a mixture of fine salt and Cayenne pepper – ten spoonsfuls of salt and one spoonful of Cayenne pepper. Have it always where you can lay your hand on it; you will come to use it daily in camp, and if you ever get lost, you will find it of value.

  11. Patty
    April 28, 2014 at 1:40 pm

    I love the tie in from the book – well done!

    • Theresa
      April 29, 2014 at 9:35 am

      That’s what I do, Patty. Glad you like it!

  12. Chenoa
    April 29, 2014 at 9:26 pm

    Just came across your site. What a cool idea to recreate the Outlander meals.
    What kind of clay is that? It looks like modeling clay. I wish I was back in Texas, we used to dig the clay from the river bank. It would work well for this.

    • Theresa
      April 30, 2014 at 9:01 am

      Welcome, Chenoa! This is some clay I borrowed from a potter friend. It’s food safe, which not all modeling clay would be.

  13. Chef Christy
    September 26, 2014 at 7:12 pm

    I just received the bounty of some (cleaned!) quail, so now all I need is the clay. Where did you go to find your lead-free clay?

    • Theresa
      September 27, 2014 at 6:40 am

      Awesome! I got mine from a potter friend. Try a local potter or an artist supply store.

  14. Cheryl
    July 12, 2015 at 2:24 pm

    I want to do the quail. How long did you leave it in the fire?

    • Theresa
      July 14, 2015 at 9:11 am

      It depends on how close it is, how big the fire, etc…but once the clay is dry and hard, the quail should be cooked.

  15. Glenn Crawford
    August 26, 2015 at 8:52 pm

    Ok that looks great, time for me to take some of my quails to freezer camp.

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