A love affair with quail eggs
When Laura Geiges was a little girl, her mom used to bring home something special from New York City’s China Town. It was quail eggs.
“We would blow them out. And use them as décor, so that’s kind of how I got a real affection for quail eggs, but I never ate one,” Laura said.
Fast forward several decades. Laura lives in Wellfleet and she and her husband Pete are sharing their living room with a newly arrived covey — or small flock — of quail.
“The sounds are incredible and they’re always conversing and you can tell when they’re happy, when they’re alarmed, when they’re angry, like if they can’t get in the sandbox when they want to they’re really entertaining. I’ll sit there at the sewing machine and they’re behind me and I just love to listen to them.”
Laura’s quail are Coturnix japonica, a species native to East Asia that’s been domesticated since the 12th century. It’s thought coturnix quail were originally bred as songbirds, but eventually, people began to appreciate them for their eggs.
While I was visiting, Laura discovered that one had laid another egg. I asked her to describe it.
“This one’s very big. It’s cream-colored with brown blotches and sometimes dark brown speckles. They’re just so adorable.”
Like chickens, mature quail lay an egg most days and the eggs are covered with a protective membrane that keeps them fresh until they’re washed or refrigerated. But compared with chickens both the quail and their eggs are tiny.
“They’re great hard-cooked, you boil them at a medium boil for about three minutes, then dunk them in the ice bath, and they’re much easier, more reliable to peel than chicken eggs because chicken eggs it’s sort of like arg, you can’t get through the membrane but these guys, these have a more rubbery membrane so once you pinch through that the shell just comes off so easily, so easily,” Laura said.
She added, “So that’s generally how we like to have them we just cut them in half and have them on salads. But as you can see they’re the size of grape tomatoes so really you can just eat them, pop them like that.”
As far as some dishes you’d make with chicken eggs, like scrambled eggs, it's not a simple swap. It’d take a lot of quail eggs because the eggs are so small. Laura explained that they cook very quickly too.
Coturnix quail also mature very quickly — when Laura got her birds they were only eight weeks old, and they were already laying eggs — chickens take 26 weeks on average. Laura says because of this, some people raise quail as meat birds, but she’s more interested in learning to cook with the eggs, which require a little bit of special handling.
“These are Japanese quail eggs scissors and the reason you need these is because you can’t just crack them against a bowl. This makes it’s like a guillotine. You do it really quick.”
This is how you crack raw quail eggs — but Laura says it’s so fussy, they almost always hard boil them instead. She made a plate of deviled quail eggs for me to try — delicious, also incredibly labor intensive, which is apparently a theme for keeping quail.
“They’re really fun creatures but between you and me they are a lot of maintenance.”
Maybe not a forever pet, Laura Geiges admitted, and definitely not for everyone. But for a brief and torrid love affair with quail eggs, worth it.
This piece first aired in September 2021.