Until I came to live in China I could count the number of times I’d encountered Quails’ eggs on one hand. Now I seem to buy and cook them regularly. I recall that the first time I had them was at a posh Cambridge cocktail party, soon after I had arrived from Africa, still wet behind the ears! A pile of them were served on a silver tray together with a small dish of celery salt to dip them in.
They are pretty wee things, with their mottled shells, and very useful. It helps that they are widely available here and fairly cheap, whereas in the UK they are not so common, and jolly expensive. I can buy them loose, by weight, at the market – or 2 dozen in an egg-box at the supermarket. They keep for a week to ten days at room temperature, but in my case they are always used long before then.
What do I use them for? … usually I hard boil them and then they can be served as a snack/canapé a la Cambridge and its silver tray, or I halve them and add them to a fish pie or cauliflower cheese. They make a Salade Niçoise look rather elegant, and when wrapped in sausage meat then dipped in beaten egg and breadcrumbs and fried they make the cutest little Scotch Eggs.
Here in China they are a common street food served by Muslim Chinese – Kao anchun dan are grilled quails eggs on a skewer – usually four or five of them – slathered with sesame paste and chilli oil – Yum!
If you really want to push the boat out for a starter, a little tartlette of leeks topped with a quail’s egg before being baked is quite impressive.
The shells are quite tough, and so they have a reputation of being difficult to peel. If you use my fool-proof method you will find that it is a doddle. Bring a saucepan of water to the boil, when and when. boiling rapidly tip the eggs in gently. Don’t try to do more than 20 at a time. Set your timer for 3 minutes. Remove any eggs that float and chuck them out – I once had a vrot* egg that had floated. Put a colander in the sink, and have a large bowl with cold water in it to hand.
When the timer indicates they have had their 3 minutes, scoop them out and put them into the colander and run cold water over them for a few moments. Then, one by one, remove them from the colander, roll and press them on the work surface so that the shell cracks all over and place them in the bowl of cold water. Now you can leave them until you are ready to shell them. The shells will come off really easily. Pat the shelled eggs dry with a piece of kitchen towel.
There you have it, easy peasy.
In fact that technique works for shelling any egg. The reason being that between the shell and the egg itself is a membrane. As the cooked egg cools, the membrane tightens and effectively shrink-wraps the egg which makes it hard to remove the shell without damaging the egg white. If you crack the shell and membrane whilst the egg is still hot, the cold water gets in between them and the egg and it is simplicity to peel.
Get some quails’ eggs and get going …you’ll be hooked too.
* South African slang for rotten/bad