Story and Photos By Janice Cole, Minnesota
There’s something about quail eggs that makes them hard to resist. The tiny brown-speckled gems with their aqua interiors look more like candy Easter eggs or Martha Stewart props ready to nestle into moss-lined twig baskets than real eggs for cooking and eating. But quail eggs are so much more than eye candy; quail egg benefits include flavor, nutrition, and versatility. They are prized around the world for their delicacy.
Domesticated quail have been raised for thousands of years. Quail species are mentioned in the Bible and evidence of quail domestication has been found in ancient Egyptian artifacts. These tiny birds were easy to raise, and consistently produced quality nutritious eggs and meat, making them the sustainable choice for many small farmers through the centuries. Today in the United States and Europe, quail and their eggs are often viewed as gourmet delicacies fit only for extra-special occasions and elegant affairs. However, in Asia, quail is considered just one more protein source and their eggs are often the cheapest in the marketplace, which makes them easy to find. They’re often sold at street markets consumed as stand-up snacks or quick and inexpensive lunches or dinners. And of course, they’re also a staple in sushi bars around the world.
Quail Eggs vs. Chicken Eggs
While quail eggs have yet to become mainstream here in the U.S., they are easily found in Asian markets and in many large or upscale grocery stores or co-ops and I urge you to search them out. Quail eggs are tiny, weighing only about 9 grams (1/3 of an ounce). In comparison, the average large chicken egg weighs about 50 grams (1 3/4 ounces). They are about one-fifth the size of a chicken egg so that it takes five quail eggs to equal a chicken egg. One of the many benefits of quail eggs is that they are perfect for appetizers and finger food, but their versatility extends to any cooking method and they can be poached, fried, soft-boiled or hard-cooked. Best of all, children love them! They’re just the size for a child’s fingers and appetite.
Quail Egg Flavor and Uses
Quail eggs taste similar to chicken eggs, but they have a slightly higher proportion of yolk to white. Quail eggs are versatile and can be cooked in a variety of ways; however, I’ve found that it’s their adorable size that makes them so special. Keep that in mind when deciding how to serve them. While scrambled quail eggs taste fabulous, they’re not as spectacular to your guests as quail eggs served whole either fried, poached or hard or soft-cooked. However, no matter what the cooking method, be careful of your timing. Because of their size, they can easily be overcooked, causing the egg white to become tough and the yolk dry. When cooked correctly, I find the whites are so tender they taste almost silky.
Quail eggs are rarely used in baking. Their size makes them difficult to substitute for chicken eggs. However, if you have an overabundance of quail eggs and would like to try your hand at baking them, measure the eggs by weight (1 3/4 to 2 ounces for one large chicken egg) or volume (three tablespoons per large chicken egg; two tablespoons egg white and one tablespoon egg yolk). Quail eggs could be used to make small amounts of custard but again you should measure the eggs by weight or volume when substituting for chicken eggs.
Quail Egg Nutrition
A benefit of quail eggs is that they pack a lot of nutrition into their tiny package. According to the USDA, when compared per equal units to chicken eggs, they are higher in iron, B12 and folate than chicken eggs and slightly higher in protein and phosphorus. They are also higher in fat because of the larger ratio of yolk to white, but most of the fat is monounsaturated (good fat). There are many sites that claim quail eggs are a miracle cure. They claim eating quail eggs will cure cancer, baldness, impotence, tuberculosis, allergies and more. As with all claims please do your own research using scientific nutrition data from the USDA.
Cracking a Quail Egg Shell
The speckled shell is surprisingly thick with a tough inner membrane that carefully protects the egg. The beauty is that while quail eggs may look like delicate china, they’re tough little things that are as easy to handle as any chicken egg and surprisingly harder to break.
I’ve found the easiest way to open quail eggs is to pierce the top end of the egg with the tip of a small knife creating a 1/2-inch slit (being careful not to pierce the yolk). Use your fingers to pull the top of the shell off the egg. This creates less shell breakage than simply cracking the shell on the side of a bowl or the counter. It also easily pierces the membrane allowing the egg to slip right out into a small bowl. Or, if you use a lot of quail eggs, you might want to invest in quail egg scissors. This gadget slices the top right off the quail egg. Once you open the quail egg shell it reveals not only the egg but also the surprising blue-green color of the inside of the shell — spectacular!
Cooking Quail Eggs:
Hard or Soft-Cooked Steamed Quail Eggs:
I’ve found the best way to soft-cook or hard-cook quail eggs is to steam them.
• Place a steamer basket in the bottom of a saucepan filled with 1-inch of water; cover and bring to a boil.
• Add the eggs to the steamer basket, cover and boil:
– 3 minutes for soft-cooked eggs
– 5 minutes for hard-cooked egg
• Immediately plunge the eggs into a bowl of ice water before peeling.
Fried or Poached Quail Eggs
• Use low heat following your preferred method.
• Cover and cook on low heat 2 to 3 minutes or until desired doneness. (If eggs seem to be cooking too fast even on low heat, remove from the heat and let sit covered until of desired doneness.)
Quail Egg Recipes:
Quail Eggs in Ramekins with Melted Leeks, Asparagus, and Mushrooms
Quail eggs are the perfect size for topping individual ramekins. Two sunny-side-up eggs easily sit side-by-side on top of the savory leek, mushroom, and asparagus filling for an elegant brunch entrée.
4 tablespoons butter, divided
1/4 cup minced shallots
8 oz. mushrooms, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
4 tablespoons heavy cream, divided
1/2 cup shredded Gruyère or Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup sliced leeks (white and light green parts)
1/2 cup asparagus tips, blanched
8 quail eggs
Heat oven to 400ºF. Coat 4 (1/2-cup) ramekins with cooking spray; place on baking sheet.
Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in medium skillet over medium heat. Add shallots and sauté 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add mushrooms; cook 3 to 4 minutes or until tender, stirring constantly. Lightly sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Add 2 tablespoons of the cream; bring to a boil. Boil gently 1 to 2 minutes or until slightly thickened. Spoon over bottom of ramekins; sprinkle with cheese.
Melt remaining 2 tablespoons butter over medium heat in medium skillet; add leeks and cover. Cook over low heat 2 minutes or until wilted. Remove cover and continue cooking 2 to 3 minutes or until soft. Stir in remaining 2 tablespoons cream and cook until slightly thickened; sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper to taste. Spread over mushroom mixture in ramekins. Arrange asparagus tips over the top. (Ramekins can be done-ahead to this point. Cover and refrigerate 1 to 2 hours or overnight. Bring to room temperature before baking.)
Right before baking, place 2 quail eggs over each ramekin. Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until mushroom-leek mixture is hot and eggs are to desired doneness.
Sriracha-Sesame Quail Eggs
This appetizer is the perfect combo: it’s easy-to-assemble and will wow your guests.
1/4 cup Sriracha sauce
2 teaspoons Asian sesame oil
3 tablespoons white sesame seeds (toasted)
3 tablespoons black sesame seeds
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse sea salt
2 to 3 dozen hard-cooked quail eggs
2 to 3 dozen wooden skewers
Prosciutto and Quail Egg Bruschetta
This Italian version of bacon and eggs is a huge hit with everyone. Toasted bread topped with crispy prosciutto and fried eggs is perfection. There’s no need to salt the eggs as the prosciutto carries the seasoning. If prosciutto is not available, use bacon instead.
12 (1/2-inch) slices baguette
3 to 4 slices prosciutto
12 quail eggs
fresh dill for garnish
Heat enough olive oil to generously cover the bottom of a medium to large skillet. Toast baguette slices in olive oil, in batches if necessary, until lightly browned. Drain on paper towels.
Heat broiler. Line baking sheet with foil; coat with cooking spray. Arrange prosciutto over foil. Broil 1 to 3 minutes or until prosciutto is slightly charred around the edges and lightly crisp (it will continue to crisp as it cools).
Heat enough oil to lightly coat the bottom of a medium nonstick skillet until hot. Reduce heat to low and add eggs. Cover and fry 2 to 3 minutes or until desired doneness, being careful not to overcook eggs.
Arrange pieces of prosciutto over toasted baguette, top with warm egg; garnish with dill.
Stir together Sriracha sauce and sesame oil in small cup. Combine white and black sesame seeds with sea salt in small bowl. Insert 1 wooden skewer into each quail egg. Lightly dip into the Sriracha sauce mixture and roll in sesame seed mixture. Serve with remaining Sriracha sauce mixture for dipping.
2 to 3 dozen appetizers
Simple Beet-Pickled Quail Eggs
These gorgeous gems are easy to make when you start with pickled beet liquid. They are perfect on salads, as appetizers with beer, wine or martinis or just as a pick-me-up in the afternoon.
1 cup pickled beets with liquid (about 1/2 of 16-oz. jar)
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon dill seeds
1/2 teaspoon whole allspice
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 dozen hard-cooked quail eggs
Combine all of the ingredients, except the eggs, in a small narrow bowl or glass measuring cup. Gently stir in the eggs, making sure the eggs are completely covered with the liquid. Cover and refrigerate 6 hours or until the eggs are bright pink on the outside with a thin pink rim on the inside of the egg (when cut in half).
12 pickled eggs
Pesto-Quail Egg Stuffed Mini Peppers
These pepper-poppers are a colorful appetizer; filled with basil pesto, quail eggs and cheese, they’re something new and fun to serve with drinks. For those searching for a little more zest, use jalapeño chiles in place of the mini-sweet peppers.
Mini sweet bell peppers, assorted colors, halved lengthwise, seeds and veins removed
Basil pesto, homemade or purchased
Quail eggs (2 eggs per mini-bell pepper)
Shredded Parmesan cheese
Heat oven to 400ºF. Line small rimmed baking sheet with foil; coat foil with cooking spray. Arrange bell pepper halves, cut-side up, on baking sheet. (Cut a small slice off the bottom if necessary to help peppers stand up-right, being careful not to cut through the pepper.) Spoon a small amount of pesto into each half; top with egg. Sprinkle with cheese.
Bake 5 to 6 minutes or until cheese is melted and eggs are to desired doneness.
Copyright Janice Cole, 2016