Lately, I have been fixated on the idea of tunnel-boning quail. For the uninitiated, this means carefully removing the bones from the bird, while leaving the meat and skin intact, so that you can then stuff it and make it look like it has all its bones. Clear? It’s actually a rather nice thing to do, as quail is so delicious, except for those bothersome little bones.
Tunnel-boning is easier than it sounds, provided you’ve got some familiarity with a bird’s anatomy. I’m a dab hand at quartering and boning a chicken (I’d include a how-to, but this video explains it so much better and more clearly than I could in a blog post), so I figured this couldn’t be much harder.
You will need:
“Oven ready” (i.e., plucked and drawn) quail (or other small game birds of your choice)
A short sharp knife
With the quail breast side up, first gently push back the skin and flesh at the top of the breasts and then use the tip of your knife to separate the wishbone from the breast meat on both sides. Grasping the wishbone firmly with your index finger, pull it out. Next, using your knife and your fingers (this is an exercise in excavation) separate the ribs from the breasts on both sides, all the way down the breast bone, or as far as you can manage. I found that before you pull out the ribs and blade-shaped breastbone, it is best to first remove the long bone that runs from the top of the breast through the fleshy part of the wing. You can do this by gently peeling away the meat from the bone until you reach the joint, then sever at the joint (you may have to turn the wing inside out to get to this stage). If you wish, at this point you can snip the bony wing tips off. (I didn’t.) Now, pull out the ribs and the blade shaped breast bone, using your knife to cut away any tendon. Both sides should come out easily. Feel around to make sure you haven’t left any little tiny bones sticking to the meat, and carefully remove any strays.
Now. Flip the bird over so it is breast side down. Turn it so its legs are facing you, break the pelvis in half lengthwise, and remove the thigh bones from both sides much as you removed the wing bones, severing from the leg bones at the joints. Turn the bird again so that it is still breast down but its top is facing you. Carefully insert the knife between the skin and the spine and separate from the skin. If you can’t get all the way down, feel free to turn the bird and separate the same way from the other end.
IMPORTANT. Don’t be wild (as my mother would say). You don’t want to tear the skin. At this point you should be able to pull the whole spine out in one piece, although it’s also okay if you pull it out in two pieces.
Now, with any luck, you should have fully boned quail, like little deflated gloves, ready to be stuffed, trussed, and cooked: