Quail eggs… why?

Quail eggs have been haunting me.  The first time I actually saw a quail egg was just south of Moscow, Russia at my husband’s family reunion.  What a trip.  Some true-to-form Mindy highlights: being held at customs until we paid a $300 visa-revision fee (that’s right, US dollars, meaning my husband had to go to an ATM, withdraw rubles, exchange them into US dollars, just to go back to withdraw $3 more dollars to cover the transactin fee); showing up at a giant, empty hotel with 4, separate entrances, each with its own reservation desk & staff, none of which would acknowledge that we had a reservation; and basically just not remembering how to say “yes” in Russian for days because every time we asked a question, we heard, “nyet.”  Anyway, at one outdoor picnic (infested with yellow-jackets that I actually saw eating chunks of cured meat), out came the quail eggs.  They proceeded to drop them into shot glasses, top them off with vodka, and down the entire thing.

Well, I passed, not because I wouldn’t have tried it, but because apparently Russians have evolved to live without water.  For a week straight, I couldn’t find a glass of water.  A week straight.  Every time you asked for a drink, you were given vodka.  And this isn’t that “made from glacial springs” type vodka either, this stuff singed your nose hairs when you smelled it.  My lips were literally blistered and burned from the vodka both drying and disinfecting them at the same time.  So when that tiny little egg (mostly yolk) swimming in vodka was passed on me, I waved it away and prayed for rain.

When I get to work on Appetizers at l’École’s Sunday brunch, the worst part is gently tapping around the shell of the 1″ egg to crack off just its top, and then using the shell to separate the particularly-clingy albumen from the large, but delicate yolk.  Add latex gloves to all of this and it ups your joy as quail shell sticks to your fingers as you’re trying to pass the yolk between your fingers.  I find the best thing to do is crack around the shell to create a path that you can then drag the tip of your paring knife around to cut through the shell.  Be careful not to put the knife in too far as it will puncture the yolk.  Also, muttering obscenities under your breath seems to help a bit…

Then last week, Dave Arnold came up with a great idea for his demo at the French Culinary Institute – low-temperature, circulated quail eggs (poached in the shell) to top his homemade scrapple.  Oh, one catch – they’re even more of a pain to take out of the shell when cooked.  As we were plating, I stood over a prep table with a quail egg cutter, trying to cut into the poached egg on both sides and gently shake the eggs out of their shell.  I cut into one and sliced through the runny yoke on the first try.  Great.  Next up.  I made it through the first cut, then hit the yoke on the second.  Attempts 3-6 went something like that, breaking the yoke either on shell-cutting or when jostling it out of the shell.  Finally, I figured out the way to do it – cut just the top, turn over, jiggle slightly so the egg hangs out through the hole you just made, then slice off just the bottom.  Flip it again, jiggle the egg so it slides to the larger, bottom hole, then gently pull the shell apart at the top hole until it pulls apart.

Great, I figured it out!  Of course I figured it out just in time for Chef Nils to come out into the hallway and see me standing over half a dozen massacred eggs.  Just as I had gotten the hang of it, I was relieved of quail egg duty, but not relieved at all…

Could be worse, I could’ve been burned across the back of my neck with hot bacon fat that someone accidentally splashed through the air.  Oh wait, that happened, too.

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