“The Quail’s Egg” is a popular children’s folk tale from Sri Lanka. The mother quail loses her egg in the crevice of a rock and tries numerous channels to get assistance. After many “no” responses, she finally has success when she gets the cat to scare the mouse to run up the leg of an elephant. But what do we know about quail?
My daughter, Meredith, and I took a cooking class from Chef Daniel Peyraud in Aix in Provence, France, a few years ago. Roasted quail was the entrée for our dinner, my first experience eating quail. Prepared with mushrooms, olives, bacon, cardamom, thyme, and peppercorns, the single-serving bird was delicious. It was a bit reminiscent of a Cornish Game Hen, but with a more slender body. Preparation included removing the heads and feet from the packaged birds, a far cry from taking a frozen chicken breast out of a bag!
A more recent exposure to quail occurred when we rented a home in Phoenix, AZ, for a few days last winter through the AirB&B program. The homeowner left notes requesting we feed the birds each morning. Much to my delight, the birds turned out to be a flock of quail that came swooping over the fence and into the back yard. As they pecked the ground to retrieve the feed, the distinctive curved black crown feather bobbled on their foreheads.
But my most rewarding connection with quail is in the use of quail eggs. They are small. Recipes say you must use five to seven quail eggs to equal one chicken egg. The shells are a bit firmer than a typical egg shell. This makes the uncooked egg a bit difficult to crack so the recommended procedure is to tap firmly with a sharp knife in order to preserve the continuity of the yolk. Special scissor-like cutters are also available to open the shells. Because they are so attractive with their dark speckled coloration, you might include a few unshelled eggs on your serving platter.
Quail eggs taste much like chicken eggs, although the yolk is perhaps a bit richer. The proportion of yolk to white is almost equal. Hard-cooked quail eggs, packed in a lunch box, for example, have a much less offensive odor than hen’s eggs.
The real fun in using the quail eggs, however, is due to the fact that each egg is a lovely bite-size morsel. Consequently, they are perfect for use as an amuse bouche, appetizer, or tapas course. The eggs can be prepared in virtually any way you prepare chicken eggs – deviled, hard-cooked, fried, poached, and pickled, but typically with much less time due to their small size. And from there, your imagination is your only limiting factor.
Here are a few suggestions:
* roll hard-cooked eggs in a mixture of olive oil and soy sauce, then your favorite herb mixture (look up Za ‘atar, a Middle Eastern blend) or just dip in fleur de sel
* slice hard-cooked eggs and place on top of pizza
* add whole hard-cooked eggs to Asian soup or noodle dishes
* place one fried egg with a slice of Spanish chorizo on a slice of baguette for a tapa (called Cojonudo)
* cover with a layer of sausage, then bake to make Scotch Eggs
* cut in half and place on top of potato salad
* wrap in a potsticker wrapper, then poach, to make egg ravioli
* roll into sushi
* place on top of a slider or Croque Madame Sandwich
I purchase the eggs at my favorite ethnic grocery in Fargo – the Asian and American Market at 1015 Main Avenue. They are reasonably priced and come in little cases of ten eggs. The shelf life is quite long, although as with chicken eggs, the older the egg, the larger the air space at the large end. Canned and pickled quail eggs are also available.
As you can imagine, children will be enthralled with quail eggs due to their small size. Japanese families put these hard-cooked eggs in bento boxes used for cold lunches. Kits are available to form the eggs into various shapes while frying, or for decorating hard-cooked ones to resemble little animals such as kittens or rabbits. Read “The Quail’s Egg” to set the stage!