There are pickles, and then there are Pickles, with a capital P. Sean’s gorgeous delicacies belong to the latter category. This is a great recipe to stretch your cooking comfort boundaries, because it’s relatively simple and poses no overt threat (unlike deep-fried turkeys). A little jar of magenta orbs in the fridge is sure to surprise, delight, and inspire. -Amy
I can rarely resist walking past a box of quail’s eggs. Their speckled shells look like tiny masterpieces, each one different, painted by an old forgotten artist. I always feels somehow obliged to buy up a dozen or so. They sit on the windowsill like ornaments until I can bring myself to use them and destroy the shells. I often turn to this recipe in winter when the misty drizzle engulfs everything outdoors. It’s a therapeutic recipe; one to dedicate an afternoon to when no other task is beckoning. By no means is it hard or demanding; I often work my way through the Sunday paper, or roast something at the same time.
I always use fresh beets and roast them myself. They release the most enchanting aromas as they caramelize in the oven: earthy, sweet and slightly spicy. It’s a smell that always makes me feel warm inside and outside, as the oven heats up the house. But roasting your own beets for this recipe is also practical, resulting in a sweeter and more interesting pickle. After a few days in the pickle, the quail’s eggs turn a rich crimson colour and they become an instant wow factor for any dish – be it garnish or component.
Pickled quail’s eggs are so versatile; of course, they can be eaten by themselves, but try an elegant and simple starter such as a few crostini topped with crispy fried bacon and a little pink quail’s egg. One of my favourite lunches is a winter salad of warm squash, grilled black pudding or boudin noir, and a few salad leaves all thrown together with a touch of the pickle juices as a dressing.
Beet Pickled Quail’s Eggs
- 31 fl oz cider vinegar
- 7 fl oz water
- 14 oz demerara sugar
- 8 star anise
- 4 bay leaves
- 2 red onion – sliced
- a piece (2 inch) of ginger – fine chopped
- Two dozen quail’s eggs.
- 2 large/4 small beets
- Two or three sterilized kilner jars, big enough to fit roughly a quart of liquid
Note: This should be prepared at least two days in advance to let the flavours infuse, and can be left for a few weeks.
- Pre-heat the oven to 350°F. Cut the stalks of the fresh beets down to about an inch if necessary, then place whole into a roasting tin. Coat in olive oil and season. Cook for 1½ hours, or until the beets feel tender.
- Once the beets are soft, remove from oven and allow them to cool. Whilst they are cooling, pour the cider vinegar, water and sugar into a saucepan. Heat until sugar is dissolved. Drop to a low heat and add spices and onions.
- Dice the beets and add to the saucepan. Allow all the flavours to infuse on a low heat for twenty minutes then set aside to cool.
- Quail’s eggs are a bit delicate. Place in a saucepan of cold water and bring to boil. They should only take about four to five minutes once water is boiling. Remove eggs from the saucepan and plunge into icy water.
- Peel the eggs (this can be a bit of a pain), and place in the sterilised jars. Pour the pickle into the jars with the eggs. Add a few cubes of beets, a bay and any ginger to each and then seal the jars. Refrigerate and come back in 3-5 days and for a taste.
Photos taken and styled by Sean St. John.
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