From faux crab and shrimp to premium Kobe-Wagyu beef and bison to gourmet parve ‘cheese’, the kosher world has welcomed a lot of non-traditional, cutting-edge fare over the past few decades. Never a people to settle for regular old matzah ball soup and gefilte fish, kosher food enthusiasts have always been ones to up the ante in kosher cuisine by introducing unusual and exotic foods into our repertoire. Ever since an O-U sponsored ‘Mesorah dinner’ at Levana Kirschenbaum’s famed restaurant in 2004, which served exotic foods not commonly found on a kosher menu-including quail, quail and quail eggs have gained much attention and interest from many kosher foodies and consumers. And why not, it’s all kosher, isn’t it?
As it turns out- it’s not that simple. While the Torah provides physical signs and characteristics in mammals (i.e. that they have both split hooves and chew their cud) and fish (i.e. that they have both fins and scales) that identify them as a kosher species, it does not do the same for birds. Rather the Torah lists 24 families of non-kosher birds and leaves it to be assumed that accordingly the remaining species of birds are all kosher. But its still not that simple! According to tradition, after the Torah was given, Moses identified and detailed to the Jewish people which birds were permitted to be eaten, and which were forbidden. This oral tradition, known as a mesorah, has been passed down from generation to generation for thousands of years. Of course, many things get lost over time- and this is no exception. Thus the status of the acceptability of many birds as kosher is not as widely recognized or accepted as the birds for which we have a stronger based tradition and they are thus forbidden to be eaten according to the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law). For instance- it is universally accepted that chicken is a kosher bird while even today some people will still not accept turkey as a kosher bird. According to the O-U’s website, many families of birds have been accepted as kosher in different localities at one time in history, including goose, pigeons, doves, and of course- quail.
As any student of the Bible could tell you, quail are mentioned in the book of Exodus when the Jewish people, who were wandering in the Sinai dessert complained of a lack of meat. In response to this complaint, G-D sent Slav, which is commonly translated as quail, for the Jewish people to eat. The only issue with simply translating slav as quail is that there are currently almost 50 breeds of birds identified as “quail”. The common Coturnix quail, also known as Pharaoh, Bible, and Nile quail, is the breed of quail that is accepted as kosher according to the Orthodox Union (OU). This recognition comes as the result of much research by the Orthodox Union team, in particular Rabbi Chaim Loike (the OU bird expert). As I am sure you can tell from some of the names this bird is referred by, this quail is said to be of the same kind that the Jewish people ate in the desert after leaving Egypt (i.e Bible quail/Pharaoh quail) and the same quail that was commonly eaten by the Jews of Europe prior to WWII.
In order to identify the kosher quail, Rabbi Loike, along with some of his fellow peers, met with Rabbi Zweigenhoft, a Holocaust survivor who prior to the war, was well recognized in Europe for his knowledge of the identification of various kosher species. Rabbi Zweigenhoft detailed how to identify the kosher quail from the non-kosher quail and this information was then compared to historical/ biological information on the quail of Europe. Also playing a key role in the identification of the Coturnix quail as the kosher quail was archeological evidence in Egyptian pyramids which contained depictions of these quail being harvested by the Egyptians. This indicated that these were the birds which were present in the desert and thus, consumed by the wandering Jews. With all this information indicating the Coturnix as the kosher quail, the OU officially recognized the bird as a kosher species.
If you should have the desire to try cooking with quail eggs (as I did), I recommend that you do your research in verifying that the eggs you find are those of a Coturnix quail and to check with your local kashrus organization as to comply with their acceptance of quail/eggs and their kashrus standards.
These are great recipe to use with quail eggs, as it is easy and adds a cool/fancy touch to a meal as a garnish or accompaniment. Of course you can make this recipe with chicken eggs, as well.