The Jungle Bush Quail from India is also to be found in Sri Lanka. It’s a shy bird and so not often encountered by visitors to the bird sanctuaries and nature reserves. It’s much easier to see quails in home gardens where they are kept as pets that are a source of the gourmet’s delight: quail eggs.
I have a dozen quails in my garden at home, replacing the ones that a wild mongoose slaughtered a few weeks ago (see blog on Mongooses). Quails are delightful birds since they make very little fuss and require little attention apart from daily feeding and watering. In return, they reward us with 10 eggs a day.
A quail starts to lay after reaching about seven weeks in age, if conditions are right – that means a wired, covered area where they can hide, run, fly if disturbed, and live without fear. Quails are also housed in batteries to produce eggs on a commercial scale, but I am happy with the 300 eggs a year just one of my free-range quails lays. A quail weighs about 200g and manages to lay an egg that weighs 10g to 15g.
The eggs are beautiful, often multi-coloured. One of my quails specialises in eggs with a shell that is an ethereal blue. The eggs are the added value of the pets, as they are not only a gourmet snack, boiled, shelled and served with a drizzling of salt and pepper or a sprinkling of caviar, but they are actually full of unexpected goodness.
A quail egg is much more nutritional than a chicken’s egg. Five quail eggs have only 71 calories compared with a single chicken egg’s 155 calories. More important, perhaps, is that a quail egg has no bad cholesterol, so they can be enjoyed by most people. They can even be eaten raw as there is no risk of salmonella because the quail’s body temperature is much higher than that of a chicken.
A quail egg contains 13 percent protein, compared to 11 percent in a chicken egg. A quail egg also has 140 per cent of vitamin B1 compared with 50 percent in a chicken egg. In the USA, quails have a reputation for fighting allergy symptoms. They are said to be capable of healing asthma, gastric ulcers, heart diseases, skin rashes, eczema, poor digestion, obesity, diabetes, liver and renal diseases and, as if that isn’t good enough, quail eggs contribute to improving IQ.
At home, I usually enjoy peeled hard boiled quail eggs. Peeling is a difficulty due to the tough membrane beneath the shell. I boil the eggs in water with a dash of toddy vinegar, then put them in iced water to cool. I roll the egg in my fingers pinching the shell to soften it. Then I break the shell at the top of the egg and gently peel the shell and membrane from the egg.
Boiled quail eggs can be pickled, enjoyed in a curry, or wrapped in sausage meat and deep fried as a mini Scotch Egg. They can be poached and served on a bed of spinach, or even scrambled and used for an omelette.
Royston Ellis (http://www.roystonellis.com) is a British author resident in Sri Lanka since 1980