How to cook quail eggs and meat

Writer Sheryn Dean holds a controversial opinion — she thinks that quail eggs and meat are superior to chickens. 

Words: Sheryn Dean

The first time I ever tasted quail eggs, they were boiled, halved, and topped with a dollop of caviar. I was an instant convert and promptly got my own birds.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t source the caviar-laying variety. My favourite meal is the traditional devilled eggs, which make impressive, cute hors d’oeuvres. Their small size makes them a foodie’s delight. They’re the perfect size to use in salads, on top of phyllo cups or mini pies, deep-fried on a skewer, in Asian-style soups, and stir-fries. The eggs also taste great when pickled.

While they’re a lot smaller (10g) than a chicken egg (55g), they have a superior nutritional value by weight, with considerably higher levels of vitamins A, B1, B2, iron, phosphorous, and calcium.

The whites also contain unique proteins that help people avoid pollen-induced seasonal rhinitis (sneezing, nasal congestion, itchy nose). Researchers are studying these proteins to see whether they can help with more serious issues such as asthma, and food allergies.


Quail eggs can’t be cracked open like a chicken egg as the shell is too brittle and the inside membranes too rubbery. If you have a lot of eggs to process, a set of quail egg scissors does an incredibly neat, very fast job.

The alternative is to carefully saw off the pointed end of the egg using a sharp, serrated knife. Tip the egg’s contents into a glass bowl so you can easily see any shell chips.

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1. Boiled quail eggs are difficult and fiddly to shell.

2. Old eggs release their shells more easily, so use your oldest eggs if you want to hard-boil them.

3. Ladle your eggs into boiling water, cook for 2 minutes and 20 seconds, then cool down in ice-cold water. Leave to cool completely – even refrigerate overnight.

4. Use a teaspoon to peel the shell.

This method supposedly makes boiled eggs easy to peel, although it never worked for me:

• gently stir the eggs during boiling to centre the yolk;
• once boiled, turn off the element but leave the pot sitting on it for 3 minutes;
• rinse the eggs in cold water;
• when the eggs are cold, place in a small container with a lid;
• gently (not roughly) shake the eggs – you want to slightly crack the surface of the eggs all over (20 cracks or so per egg);
• add water to the container and leave it to seep into the cracks;
• the shells should then slide off cleanly.


Quail meat is way better than chicken. It’s more flavoursome, but without the strong gamey taste of duck or goose.Commercial farmers select fast-growing strains and raise them to a slaughter weight of 200g in just four weeks.

I prefer to wait until they reach full maturity at 8-10 weeks when I can accurately sex them by checking their vents. I only slaughter the males, bar one lucky fellow who becomes the father of the next batch.

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Unlike most poultry, the meat of females that have laid for a season is even tastier and considered superior. Since quail have such a short lifespan and are so quick and easy to replace, it’s worth eating the hens when they stop laying in autumn and breed or buy replacements in spring.

Quail meat is more nutritious than chicken, containing more than twice the omega 3 fatty acids, with a lower fat content. At first, I thought the small carcass (140-200g dressed or around 68-78% of the live weight) wouldn’t be worth the effort of butchering them.

But go to YouTube, and it will show you how to kill and dress a quail for cooking in less than 5 minutes. You simply use a pair of very sharp kitchen scissors or secateurs to remove the head quickly and smoothly. Hold the body over a bowl to let the blood drain out – you will feel twitching in the body from the nervous system for a short time.

You then snip off the legs and wings. You can pluck them, but the skin tears very easily – if you want to keep the skin, it’s best to dry pluck them, which will take about 8-10 minutes per bird.

I find it much easier to skin them, which takes a few seconds. You then cut out the spine, remove the entrails, rinse, and it’s ready to cook. One of my favourite recipes is based on codornices a la Española (Spanish quail).

Birds are stuffed with a mix of mushroom, green onion, parsley, butter, lemon juice, and thyme, brushed with lard, coated with breadcrumbs, then roasted in a really hot oven for 12-15 minutes.

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NZ Lifestyle Block This article first appeared in NZ Lifestyle Block Magazine.
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