Snackcrafting: A recipe for Berbere Pickled Quail Eggs

Snackcrafting is a blog series about culinary creativity with a dash of arts-and-crafts panache. Fill your pantry, fridge, and freezer with homemade goodies to eat and share.

Pickled eggs tend to incite strong opinions. People generally a) have nostalgic memories of their Pawpaw buying one every Saturday from the perpetually unrefrigerated jar sitting on the counter of the corner store, but are kind of grossed out by the idea; b) love pickles and thus love pickled eggs; or c) have never tried them or maybe even heard of them, and think they sound abjectly horrifying.

We can bridge the gap, people. We can be skeeved out by the pickled eggs of yesteryear's dive bar. But delicious sour-salty pickled eggs that conform to modern-day food safety standards (i.e. put them in the damn fridge) can and should be greedily shoved down our gullets. I'm not sure what to do about the third group, because you’re just wrong. Pickled eggs rule.

Of course, any food is better when it's tiny. So let's make pickled quail eggs instead! Besides being goddamn adorable, their small size means they pickle more quickly, so we can pretend that it is totally a functional decision. The only place I know of in the area that sells quail eggs is H-Mart in Catonsville, so the time saved by slightly quicker pickling may be negated by having to schlep all the way out there. Just ignore that. They're so cute!

I've found that most spice blends make good pickles, so I like to branch out from the classic dill or typical "pickling spice" blend of mustard seeds/coriander/cinnamon/bay leaf. Berbere is an aromatic, slightly spicy Ethiopian seasoning blend that is used in stews as well as meat and lentil dishes. It has a beautiful rich red color from the paprika, which lightly dyes the eggs, like a less-radioactive-looking version of those hot-pink pickled beet eggs.

Most of the spices are probably already in your cabinet, but for any you might not have (I'm gonna guess fenugreek), you can pick up a giant bag that you'll never finish from Punjab Groceries & Halal Meat in Abell.

The best use of these pickled eggs is obviously to scoop them out of the jar directly into your mouth by the handful and let them slide down your throat, not unlike a dolphin swallowing a fish. If you prefer a more dignified approach, they go well on a cheese-and-pickle appetizer plate. Pop one on a skewer for a bloody mary garnish. You could toss them into a green salad and use some of the brine to make a vinaigrette. Or, if peeling 18 hard-cooked quail eggs isn't fussy enough for you, you can make deviled pickled quail eggs.

But come on. Just hoover them up when you're drunk instead.

Berbere Pickled Quail Eggs
Inspired by Berbere (Ethiopian Spice Blend) by The Daring Gourmet
Makes 1 pint jar

18 quail eggs
3/4 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup water
1 1/2 teaspoons pickling salt or fine sea salt
2-4 dried hot peppers, stems removed and slits cut in each side (I used chile de arbol since I had them on hand)
2 1/4 teaspoons sweet paprika
1/2 teaspoon whole coriander seeds
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/4 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
1/4 teaspoon black peppercorns
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
scant 1/8 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1 green cardamom pod, crushed and green husk removed
1 whole clove
1 small allspice berry
pinch ground cinnamon
pinch ground or grated nutmeg

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add quail eggs in a single layer, lower heat to maintain a simmer, and simmer for 3 minutes. Drain and immediately cover with ice water to stop the eggs from overcooking.

When the eggs have cooled (it happens pretty fast because they're so tiny), peel them. The membrane is thicker than a chicken egg so I find them to be a little easier to peel despite their diminutive size. Just tap the bottom of the egg on the counter to start the crack, then roll on the counter to crack the rest of the shell. If you get it started just right you can peel it like an orange—the membrane will hold the shell fragments together and then you can give a quick rinse with cold water.

In a small pot, combine vinegar, water, and pickling salt. Bring to a boil to dissolve salt, then remove from heat and let cool slightly.

Add all spices to your jar—a pint canning jar is the perfect size, but you can reuse any glass jar you have around. Add the peeled quail eggs, then pour the brine into the jar. It's okay if you can't fit all the brine.

Put a lid on the jar then store in the fridge. For best results, let pickle for at least 2 days so the flavor can fully infuse. The longer they sit, the more flavorful and sour they get. Use within 4 months.

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