Learning with Quail

Last winter we hatched quail in my classroom and had surprising success. They grew quickly and began laying eggs in about 2 months.

Every step with the quail was a learning experience for me. They are ground nesting so their housing and egg laying is different than chickens. They don’t roost together and have almost no body mass so I really worried about them in the coldest days of this winter.

And as they have survived their first year and stopped laying eggs, it was time to learn about the other common use for quail: eating them.

I ordered a book called Pheasant, Quail and Cottontail by Hank Shaw for inspiration. The beginning of the book gives some great info, too, on harvesting small game.

It really wasn’t all that challenging. I completed the task with just a pair of kitchen shears. I decided to pluck them instead of skinning them because Shaw says the skin holds most of the flavor. If you choose to skin them, though, the process is very fast.

They looked like tiny chickens or Cornish hens when done.

The recipe I chose started with a simple brine.

After a few hours, I set the birds in a large cast iron pan and cooked them hot and fast (15 minutes at 500 degrees).

I made a simple gnocchi to go with the birds.

The meat was “medium rare” as it was supposed to be and that freaked us out a little bit. The cardinal rule of poultry is usually to cook it thoroughly. Everything I read though said it needs to be medium rare so it won’t dry out. We ate it and no one got sick so I guess it was ok. The quail meat was delicate, juicy and flavorful. If only there was more meat on the tiny guys!

We had 5 adult quail left after the harvest and I decided to just release them since quail are a native bird here. The next morning one was hanging out on the garage roof.

By evening three had made it back into the coop. I guess the other two decided to try out freedom.

I connected with another local quail keeper to get four dozen eggs and set them in my incubator to try hatching a new batch.

16 days later, I saw the first little beak peaking through!

Over the next few days, more and more birds hatched. There’s something so magical about watching eggs hatch. Even my husband got into checking the incubator every few hours to see how many more had come out.

First 19 ready to go out to the brooder…

When I put them out in the brooder, most of the babes immediately fell asleep in a big clump under their heat lamp. This hatching business is exhausting!

By day 20, we had 42 quail hatch. So by May expect to see quail eggs for sale! Have you ever had a quail egg? They make the most fun little fried eggs. I even hard boiled and pickled some – a real delicacy.

What’s your favorite quail egg or quail meat recipe?

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