Getting the Most from Quail Eggs
Kelly Bohling explains how to handle quail eggs and delicious ideas for eating them.
Delicious and Versatile Quail Eggs
Quail eggs are small, speckled gems that you’ve likely seen in your local co-op or Asian food market. They come in tiny, clear plastic egg cartons. You’ll be tempted to buy them for their cuteness alone, but what can you actually do with quail eggs?
Simply put, you can do anything with a quail egg that you’d do with an average chicken egg. Quail eggs can be soft- or hard-boiled, fried, poached, scrambled, or used in baking recipes. Fried quail eggs can top English muffins, or star in the Korean dish, Bibimbap. Hard-boiled eggs make quick bite-sized snacks, adorable deviled eggs, or delicious pickled eggs, and are tasty additions to curry, miso soup, and salads. If your local grocery doesn’t sell quail eggs, someone who raises quail in your area may be willing to sell you a couple dozen eggs. Once you try them, you might decide to raise quail yourself!
Evaluating and Cleaning Eggs
Recommended storage time for quail eggs is around six weeks, but if you have several batches of quail eggs laid at different times, it can be tricky to keep track of how long each batch has been in the fridge. Luckily, there are several methods of determining the freshness of an egg.
Fill a large bowl with room temperature water and gently place the eggs in the bowl. The good eggs will sink to the bottom, while any eggs past their prime will float with the pointed end down. Discard the floating eggs, as they’re not safe to eat.
Occasionally, eggs sustain damage that’s difficult to see, particularly against the speckled shell pattern. Cracks leave the eggs open to infection and rapid spoilage, even if they’re relatively fresh. These eggs will have a noticeably bad odor, and the yolk may have a brown color. Always be aware of the appearance and smell of eggs that you’re opening and using for cooking.
To Wash or Not to Wash
A tidy coop will keep the eggs clean; any eggs you gather shouldn’t be washed before storage. Realistically, though, you’ll still find some dirty eggs, as quail lay them all over the coop, rather than in one designated location. If eggs need cleaning, gently wash them under warm water with a soft cloth and a spot of dish soap. Use minimal pressure, as the shells are paper-thin. Discard any that crack. Let the eggs air-dry on a towel before storing them in the fridge.
Washing eggs removes any dirt and debris, but it also removes a protective coating called the bloom, which helps seal moisture in the egg and guard it from outside pathogens. Therefore, washed eggs have a shorter storage life, even in the refrigerator. If you’re buying eggs from someone else, ask if the eggs have been washed or not, to give you a better idea of their storage life.
How to Open Quail Eggs
Opening quail eggs requires a different approach than opening chicken eggs: A chicken egg has a hard shell and thin membrane, while a quail egg has a very thin shell and a strong membrane.
Some recommend using a serrated knife to open the egg, moving it in a sawing motion across the shell until it cuts through. In my experience, quail eggshells are too slick for this method, and you risk cutting your fingers in the process. Instead, use a steak knife or small chopping knife. Holding the egg in your left hand, do a gentle “karate chop” widthwise across the egg from an inch above the egg. This won’t be enough to cut the membrane, but it’ll crack the shell in a relatively clean, transverse line. Then, take the tip of the knife and gently cut into the crack, severing the membrane and allowing you to gently pry off the shell and pour the egg into a bowl. The yolk should look plump and round, while the white should be thick and clear. Discard eggs if the yolk or white are discolored, or if they smell off.
Using in Recipes
Even though quail eggs are much smaller than chicken eggs, you can still use them in any recipe that calls for eggs. A 5-to-1 ratio of quail eggs to chicken eggs is common. Using quail eggs also makes halving or quartering recipes very easy and convenient, especially when a reduction calls for a fraction of an egg.
Open quail eggs in a separate bowl before mixing them with other ingredients, in case any shell fragments fall in with the egg. The shells are very thin, so once a fragment falls into the mixture, it’s almost impossible to find.
Some recipes call for separating the yolk and white. Quail egg whites contain more protein than chicken eggs, making the quail whites very sticky. I’ve found that quail eggs separate better when they’re at room temperature. Cold quail egg whites are thick and viscous, clinging tightly to the yolks.
Angel food cake is the only recipe that’s given me trouble. It requires 60 separated eggs, without any mixing of the yolks and the whites. Fat from the yolks will keep the whites from aerating enough when whipped, taking away from the light and fluffy texture.
Hardboiled Quail Eggs
Before boiling, wash and clean the eggs. Fill a small pot halfway with water and bring to a boil. Place the eggs in a long-handled slotted spoon, and gently place in the pot. To keep the yolks in the center of the shell (which is particularly useful when making deviled eggs), stir the water gently as the eggs cook. The eggs reach a soft boil after 2 ½ to 3 minutes, and a hard boil after 4 or 5 minutes. Lift the eggs out with the slotted spoon into a colander and rinse with cold water. Let them cool completely before attempting to peel. Quail eggs will tolerate slight over-boiling, but this results in a tough and rubbery egg.
To peel the boiled eggs, gently crack the rounded side against the sink and pinch open the underlying membrane. This is the air-sac end, and it should provide a bit more room to start peeling without catching the egg white. Under cool, running water, gently peel the shell (really, the membrane) away in a spiraling motion. It takes a bit of practice, but the whole shell and membrane will come off in one long, spiraling strip. As with chicken eggs, the fresher they are, the trickier this part can be.
Another way to remove quail eggshells is to let them soak for a few hours in white vinegar. The shells are so thin that the vinegar dissolves them completely. The membranes will still need to be removed, but it’s much easier without the shell. The vinegar soak can impart an off-taste to the eggs if they soak too long, so periodically test an egg every half hour or so.
The vinegar soak is especially handy when the eggs are destined for pickling. Even if they pick up a vinegar tang from the soak, it’ll ultimately be covered by the flavors of the brine and herbs.
Recycling Pickle Brine
A quick and easy way to pickle quail eggs is to use the leftover brine in pickle jars after you’ve eaten the contents. The brine in a store-bought dill pickle jar is more than enough to pickle a whole jar of quail eggs. All of the spices from the previous pickled occupants create a mouth-watering batch of quail eggs.
Making Your Own Brine
To make brine from scratch, use a 1-to-1 ratio of vinegar to water, plus ¼ teaspoon of salt for every cup of liquid, and plenty of herbs and spices of your choosing. I prefer using white vinegar though some recipes call for apple cider vinegar. Fresh or even dried dill is one of my favorite additions, and I also add peppercorns, fennel seeds, a few fresh, minced garlic cloves, and either a dried cayenne pepper or fresh jalapeno (any hot pepper will do). Other herbs such as oregano, parsley, and celery seed make wonderful additions. Experiment to find your perfect combination.
After the brine is assembled, add the boiled, peeled quail eggs. Store in the fridge and let marinate for about two weeks. It’ll be hard not to devour them early, but the longer they soak in the brine flavors, the better.
Quail eggs are delightfully versatile in cooking and baking, and a charming addition to any meal. They’re becoming easier to find in grocery stores and from local farmers, and were one of the main reasons I began to keep quail myself. Even a small colony of quail will provide you with dozens of eggs each week to enjoy and share with friends.
Kelly Bohling is a native of Lawrence, Kansas. She works as a classical violinist, but in between gigs and lessons, she’s in the garden or spending time with her animals, including quail and French Angora rabbits. Kelly spins the Angora fiber from her rabbits into yarn for knitting. She enjoys finding ways that her animals and garden can benefit each other for a more sustainable, urban homestead.