When you think of cracking a few shells into a frying pan, chicken eggs probably come to mind. But, while you may not come across other varieties, such as duck or quail eggs, at your local grocery store, you can find them at farmers’ markets or on many restaurant menus.
Quail eggs are unique for a few reasons. For starters, they’re labour-intensive because they’re harder to peel, says Johwanna Alleyne, owner of Mojo Jojo Pickles. Each of these delicate eggs is about the same size as a miniature Cadbury Creme Egg. They have higher ratios of yolk to white, resulting in a richer mouth feel but the overall taste is no different from chicken eggs, says Alleyne. She began selling quail eggs two years ago and gets her supply from a farm near Ardrossan.
Alleyne serves pickled quail eggs in two ways: A pink-hued version brewed in an eastern European brine that includes beets (hence, the pink) and the more traditional sour white version. They’re available through special order and are also sold at farmers’ markets, including the Old Strathcona and City Market Downtown.
Chef Nathin Bye, owner of Wildflower Grill and corporate chef for Lazia and East, uses quail eggs for amuse bouches at Wildflower. He’s served them deviled atop beef and bison tartar and on crostini with prosciutto. And the eggs played a key role in his Gold Medal Plates award-winning dish, Breakfast for Dinner, which featured maple and bacon panna cotta, a quail egg, brioche toast, spiced carrot puree and a Pop Tart filled with wild chanterelles, along with a spoonful of blackberry grapefruit bircher muesli. The Gold Medal Plates Culinary Championships features small dishes, so a sunny side up quail egg made a great focal point for Bye’s presentation.
But he chose quail eggs for more than just their adorable size. Quail eggs are extremely durable simply because their speckled shells are hard to crack and the yolks are extremely sturdy, making them ideal for achieving the perfect sunny side up egg. In fact, the Japanese kitchenware company, Korin, sells a quail egg shell cutter.
On the opposite side of the scale lies the massive duck egg, another popular egg alternative. Careit Urban Deli can order them in by request and they can also be found at farmers’ markets around Edmonton in the summer.
Greens, Eggs and Ham have produced and sold duck eggs for about a decade, says Andreas Grueneberg, co-owner of the Leduc County farm. “We view them as a superior egg compared to chicken eggs,” says Grueneberg. Duck eggs are alkaline, meaning they taste milder than their more acidic chicken counterparts. They also have about double the volume inside. With a creamy yolk and a very thick egg white, duck eggs are ideal for baking – they have much better loft than chicken eggs because they have more protein, allowing them to whip up higher.
Over the past 10 years, demand for duck eggs has grown substantially, says Grueneberg, particularly with customers who are intolerant to chicken eggs. But the eggs are beneficial to everyone, not just those with intolerances. Grueneberg is so taken with duck eggs that he had a University of Alberta class test them just to verify their nutritional benefits. The results? Compared to chicken eggs, his duck eggs, according to tests conducted by the students, had 50 per cent higher levels of omega-3, an essential fatty acid that helps reduce inflammation and can lower triglycerides and blood pressure.