These Beet Pickled Quail Eggs, cheerfully tinted pink, are like a grown-up version of dyeing eggs for Easter. We first encountered these when a farmer friend, who was expanding into raising quail, started experimenting with pickling their eggs. Ever since sampling the results, we’ve been on a mission to duplicate what we remembered of them — bite-sized, protein-packed, and a delightful mix of sweet, sour, and spice. And cute, irresistibly you-can’t-eat-just-one kind of cute.
To start off, we dropped by the Winter Farmers’ Market to pick up some quail eggs from Mona Farm. Before we could make our selection, though, a fellow customer swooped in and loaded up her basket by the dozens. When asked what she planned to do with them, she replied that she had them hard-boiled every morning for breakfast. Nutritionally speaking, they’re the same as chicken eggs, just a different portion size, with about 6 quail eggs the equivalent of 1 chicken egg. We imagine this woman’s daily ritual of quietly peeling each one as a kind of morning meditation, two being enough to suit her breakfast needs.
Preferably, quail eggs for pickling should be about a week old. Like chicken eggs, the fresher it is, the harder it will be to peel. To cook, place them in cold water and bring to a boil, stirring gently with a wooden spoon to help set the yolks in the center of the egg. Let them boil for 3 minutes, then immediately transfer to icy cold water to stop the cooking. To peel, as Maggie Beer instructs, “pick up the egg and crush the pointy end against the table so that the whole shell crazes in your hand. The skin should slip off in one piece.”
Another method of peeling quail eggs is to soak them in vinegar. In a display of kitchen science, the calcium of the shell reacts immediately on contact with the vinegar in a riot of bubbles. First, the spots lift and float off, like decals. Then, in an hour or two, the shell is completely dissolved.
This method is well-suited to eggs that are going to be pickled, but do make sure that you don’t leave them in their effervescent bath too long — two hours seem to be the maximum — or they’ll soak up too much vinegar and throw off the balance of the other flavors in the pickling liquid.
After they’re done soaking, the quail eggs are left encased in a leathery membrane (above). To remove, pinch the membrane at the wide end, around where the air gap is, and make a tear. From there, the rest of the membrane can be gently peeled off. Once all of the eggs are peeled, swish them around in some cool water to rinse off any membrane left clinging, then they’re ready for pickling.
We started with two dozen quail eggs, though the brine seems ample for three. Save the cooked beets and, if you like, pop them in the jar with the quail eggs; a red onion thinly sliced also wouldn’t be out of place. The quail eggs will be ready to eat after a day of pickling, better after a week, and we thought just right at after two. It’s not uncommon to find these stored on the counter, the vinegar takes care of keeping them safe, though with limited counter space, we keep them in the fridge. Like any pickle, they can be serve alone as a snack; we’re already imagining them atop a salad of the beets and a peppery green, such as arugula or mizuna, with a dressing made from their pickling juices, and a chunk of briny cheese on the side.
Beet Pickled Quail Eggs
2 to 3 beets, washed, peeled and cut into thin wedges
1 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 to 2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
24 quail eggs
– Cover beets with cold water by 1 inch in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer beets, partially covered with lid, until tender, about 30 minutes. Transfer beets to a bowl with a slotted spoon (reserving them for another use), then measure out 2 cups beet cooking liquid, discarding remainder. Bring beet liquid to a boil in a small saucepan along with vinegar, sugar, salt, bay leaves, allspice, and peppercorns, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and cool pickling liquid completely, about 1 hour.
– While pickling liquid cools, cover eggs with cold water by 1 inch in a small saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring gently (to help center the yolks in eggs). Reduce heat and gently boil eggs, uncovered and undisturbed, 3 minutes. Pour off water and shake pan so eggs hit each other, lightly cracking shells. Cover eggs with cold water and let stand 15 minutes (to stop cooking and facilitate peeling). Drain and peel eggs. Alternatively, soak the eggs in white vinegar for 1 to 2 hours, then peel. Transfer peeled eggs to a glass jar, then pour pickling liquid over eggs. Let eggs pickle, covered, at least 24 hours.
Adapted from Epicurious, and “Maggie’s Harvest” by Maggie Beer.