The coturnix quail, also known as the Japanese quail, is one of the most widely farmed species globally. They mature quickly, are efficient breeders, and have a robust nature. Their eggs, often speckled and smaller than chicken eggs, are considered a delicacy in many cultures - and the females can lay one every day for their entire lives! The bobwhite quail, native to North America, is known for its distinctive call that sounds like "bob-white." While bobwhites are more commonly associated with hunting and wildlife in the southern parts of North America, in Alberta, they are primarily raised on farms for meat and occasionally for ornamental purposes.
Coturnix quails have a long history of domestication, with their origins tracing back to Asia. As trade routes expanded and global exploration increased, these birds found their way to various parts of the world, including Canada. Bobwhite quails, with their natural habitat in the eastern and southern parts of North America, have been historically valued both as game birds and for their role in ecosystems. In Alberta, as the demand for diverse meat sources grew and as the culinary scene expanded, both quail varieties became more prevalent, not only in farms but also in high-end restaurants and local eateries.
Often falling under different categories than livestock, it has become increasingly popular to keep small populations of quail in urban centres. As opposed to other poultry, they require considerably less space and food, and can be comfortably kept in backyards, and even on large patios. In Alberta - and across North America - they are rapidly becoming a key species in the urban agriculture movement, which seeks to re-teach urban dwellers how to tend to and raise their own sources of food.
The tender and mildly gamey flavour of quail makes it a favourite among many Alberta chefs and home cooks. Quail can be grilled, with its skin crisping up to a delightful texture, while the inside remains juicy. It's also often roasted, sometimes stuffed with herbs or other fillings, resulting in a rich and aromatic dish. Given the small size of quails, they are sometimes served whole, making for an elegant plate presentation.
The eggs of the coturnix quail, petite and flavourful, are often boiled and used in salads, or they can be pickled for a gourmet treat. Quail eggs are also very unlikely to carry salmonella due to the bird's natural temperature, which makes them a favourite for use raw on Japanese-style dishes or tartare. Alberta's culinary enthusiasts also use quail in stews or braised dishes, where the bird's flavour melds beautifully with other ingredients.