Kelly Bohling explains how to handle quail eggs and delicious ideas for eating them.
Delicious and versatile quail eggs
Quail eggs are little speckled gems you’ve probably seen at your local co-op or Asian food market. They come in tiny clear plastic egg cartons. You’ll be tempted to buy them just for their cuteness, but what can you actually do with quail eggs?
Simply put, you can do anything you would with a quail egg with a medium chicken egg. Quail eggs can be boiled or hard-boiled, fried, poached, scrambled, or used in baking recipes. Fried quail eggs can top English muffins or be the star of the Korean dish, Bibimbap. Hard-boiled eggs make quick snacks, adorable deviled eggs or delicious pickled eggs, and are tasty additions to curries, miso soup and salads. If your local grocery store doesn’t sell quail eggs, someone who raises quail in your area might be willing to sell you a few dozen eggs. Once you’ve tried them, you might decide to raise quail yourself!
Egg Assessment and Cleaning
The recommended shelf life for quail eggs is about six weeks, but if you have several batches of quail eggs laid at different times, it can be difficult to know how long each batch has been in the refrigerator. Fortunately, there are several methods to determine the freshness of an egg.
Fill a large bowl with room temperature water and carefully place the eggs into the bowl. Good eggs will sink to the bottom, while any eggs past their peak will float with the pointed end down. Discard floating eggs, as they are not safe to eat.
Sometimes the eggs sustain hard-to-see damage, especially against the speckled pattern of the shell. The cracks leave the eggs open to infection and rapid spoilage, even if they are relatively fresh. These eggs will have a noticeably bad smell and the yolk may have a brown color. Always be aware of the appearance and smell of the eggs you open and use for cooking.
To wash or not to wash
A tidy chicken coop will keep the eggs clean; the eggs you collect should not be washed before storage. Realistically, however, you will always find dirty eggs, as quail lay them all over the coop, rather than in a designated spot. If the eggs need cleaning, wash them gently in warm water with a soft cloth and a spot of dish soap. Use minimal pressure, as the shells are paper-thin. Discard any cracks. Let the eggs air-dry on a towel before storing them in the refrigerator.
Washing eggs removes dirt and debris, but it also removes a protective coating called bloom, which helps seal moisture into the egg and protect it from outside pathogens. Therefore, washed eggs have a shorter shelf life, even in the refrigerator. If you buy eggs from someone else, ask if the eggs have been washed or not, to give you a better idea of their shelf life.
How to Open Quail Eggs
Opening quail eggs requires a different approach than chicken eggs: a chicken egg has a hard shell and a 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 smooth for this method and you might cut your fingers in the process. Instead, use a steak knife or a small carving knife. Holding the egg in your left hand, do a light “karate kick” widthwise through the egg one inch above the egg. This alone will not cut the membrane, but it will crack the shell in a relatively clean transverse line. Then take the tip of the knife and gently cut into the crack, cutting through the membrane and allowing yourself to gently lift the shell and pour the egg into a bowl. The yolk should be plump and round, while the white should be thick and clear. Discard eggs if the yolk or white are discolored or smell bad.
Use 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 an egg fraction.
Open the quail eggs in a separate bowl before mixing them with other ingredients, in case shell fragments fall out with the egg. The shells are very thin, so once a fragment falls into the mix, it’s nearly impossible to find.
Separate the yolks
Some recipes call for separating the yolk and the white. Quail egg whites contain more protein than chicken eggs, which makes quail whites very sticky. I have found quail eggs separate better when they are at room temperature. Cold quail egg whites are thick and viscous, clinging tightly to the yolks.
Angel food cake is the only recipe I have trouble with. It requires 60 separate eggs, with no mixing of yolks and whites. The fat from the yolks will prevent the whites from airing enough when whipped, which will take away the light, fluffy texture.
Hard-boiled quail eggs
Before boiling, wash and clean the eggs. Fill a small saucepan halfway with water and bring to a boil. Place the eggs in a long-handled slotted spoon and carefully place them in the pan. To keep the yolks in the center of the shell (which is especially helpful when making deviled eggs), gently stir the water 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 with the slotted spoon into a colander and rinse with cold water. Let them cool completely before trying to peel them. Quail eggs will tolerate a slight overboil, but this results in a hard, rubbery egg.
Eggs to peel
To peel hard-boiled eggs, gently crack the rounded side against the sink and pinch the underlying membrane. This is the end of the air sac, and it should provide a bit more room to start peeling without catching the egg white. Under cold running water, gently peel the shell (in fact, the membrane) in a spiral motion. It takes a bit of practice, but the whole shell and membrane will come off in one long spiral strip. As with chicken eggs, the fresher they are, the trickier this part can be.
Another way to remove quail egg shells is to soak them 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. Soaking in vinegar can make eggs taste bad if they soak too long, so periodically test an egg every half hour or so.
Vinegar dipping is especially handy when the eggs are intended for pickling. Even though they pick up a vinegar flavor from the steeping, it will eventually be covered over by the flavors of the brine and herbs.
pickle brine recycling
A quick and easy way to pickle quail eggs is to use the leftover brine in pickle jars after eating the contents. The brine in a jar of store-bought dill pickle is more than enough to pickle an entire jar of quail eggs. All the spices from the pickled previous occupants create an appetizing batch of quail eggs.
Make your own brine
To make brine from scratch, use a 1:1 ratio of vinegar to water, plus ¼ teaspoon of salt for every cup of liquid, and plenty of herbs and spices of your choice. I prefer to use white vinegar although 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 minced fresh garlic cloves, and either a dried cayenne pepper or fresh jalapeno (any pepper will do). Other herbs such as oregano, parsley, and celery seed make wonderful additions. Experiment to find your perfect combination.
Once the brine is assembled, add the boiled and peeled quail eggs. Store in the refrigerator and let marinate for about two weeks. It will be hard not to devour them sooner, but the longer they soak in the flavors of the brine, the better.
Quail eggs are deliciously versatile in cooking and baking, and a charming addition to any meal. They are becoming easier to find in grocery stores and from local farmers, and this is one of the main reasons I started raising quail myself. Even a small quail colony will provide you with dozens of eggs every week to enjoy and share with friends.
Kelly Bohling is from Lawrence, Kansas. She works as a classical violinist, but between concerts and lessons she is in the garden or spending time with her animals, including quails and French Angora rabbits. Kelly transforms the angora fiber of her rabbits into knitting yarn. She enjoys finding ways for her animals and garden to benefit each other for more sustainable urban ownership.