Which came first, the bologna or the egg?
December 17, 2016
I feel like Paul Newman.
Which is not a bad thing, because I? Love me some Paul Newman, star of the Second Best Movie Ever Made, in which he proclaims, proudly, “I can eat 50 eggs!” and proceeds to do so.
I can’t eat 50 eggs. But I can, by George, peel 60 of ’em. Sixty tiny little quail eggs, in fact. In thirty minutes. I’m just good like that.
Back a while ago, when I first commenced thinking about Christmas gift baskets, I ran across something on one of the food blogs I read about pickled eggs. Which got me to thinking. Which is generally a dangerous thing.
Back in the Dark Ages when I was a kid, I lived out in the country, down the road from a little country grocery store. That store was my second home. I spent many an hour perched on the “drink box,” a soft drink cooler with metal doors on top that opened upward, which exuded a marvelous cool on a hot summer day, drinking 6 1/2 ounce Cokes with peanuts in them and eating soft peppermint sticks from the penny candy rack.
The store had a meat counter in back, where Mr. Hershel would cut you a slab of bologna, slap it between two slices of white Sunbeam bread or two big Saltines (the four-square variety) for a lunchtime sandwich. Atop the meat case, there were always two big gallon jugs. One of them held pickled bologna, three-inch or so lengths of small ring bologna, about 2 inches in diameter. The other held pickled eggs. Hershel kept a long-handled fork propped between them, and he’d stab in either jar and fish you out an egg or two or a “baloney” or two, if you preferred that over a sandwich. (Crackers were included in the price, and hot sauce was complimentary.)
So I thought to myself, “Self? Why couldn’t we pickle some bologna and some eggs together? And why couldn’t we put them in a our Christmas gift baskets? And why don’t we, just on account of the Christmas cute factor, use some quail eggs?” And Self replied, “Well, heck, why not?”
So we commenced. In vain hope the local Asian market would have acquired quail eggs by now, and I would not have to go to Memphis, I stopped by there first. Nope, no quail eggs. “Soon, soon,” the nice lady behind the counter said. Yeah, I heard that when I asked two months ago, right after they opened. So I betook myself to Memphis, driving an hour and 15 minutes to spend all of five minutes in the Viet Hoa Food Market on Cleveland, which is, I believe, the closest Asian market to east Arkansas. I feel quite certain the nice lady at the counter was quite bemused by the hanagaijin (Crazy foreigner. Forgive the Japanese; I have no idea what the Vietnamese for that concept is.) who came in, demanded to know where the quail eggs were, and bought five dozen (all they had in the cooler).
Two and a half hours on the road for a 5-minute shopping trip and five dozen quail eggs. That’s how it is when self and I get our minds set on something.
Anyway, I set out to boil and peel those babies. Now, a quail egg is, in general, a harder thing to peel than is a chicken egg, at least a supermarket chicken egg. The shell is thicker and tougher, and the little critters being small, there’s less room for error. In the hopes of not subjecting myself to hand cramps and tired feet from standing in one spot for hours, I decided to cook the eggs in the Instant Pot, which allegedly makes them easier to peel.
To do standard hard-boiled eggs in the IP, one puts them on a steamer basket on the trivet above a cup of water, clamps down the lid, sets it to low pressure for five minutes, natural pressure release, then moves the eggs to an ice water bath. I figured quail eggs, being teensy, would take less than that. I went with two minutes, as they would get more “cooking” when they were processed in the water bath.
Moved the steamer basket of quail eggs to the counter, dumped the water, filled the IP a third of the way with ice cubes, set the steamer basket on top, ran water to cover the eggs, and went away to do something else. Came back an hour later, fished out the steamer basket (it helps if you use it on the trivet, so you can use the trivet handles to keep the steamer from “spreading out” and eggs going every whichaway), dumped the water again, and dumped the eggs back in. Shook the pot vigorously to crack eggshells, ran more cold water over, then picked up a small handful of eggs at a time, rubbed them between my palms to make sure the shells were well cracked all over, and dumped them back in the pot, running yet more cold water over.
This is the ticket for peeling quail eggs. The water, I guess, leaches in to the tiny cracks. If you’ll start peeling at the rounded end, where the air sac is, you can actually peel the shell in a long spiral completely off the egg in one go. The trick is getting underneath the membrane that is between the egg and shell, and peeling in the right direction. If it’s not going right, change the way you’re holding the egg so you’re peeling counterclockwise instead of clockwise. I swear. It works.
I timed it, just out of curiousity. Took me 32 minutes to peel 60 eggs, which at least puts me in shouting distance of Paul Newman and entitles me to sing, off-key, “I don’t care if it rains or freezes, long as I got my plastic Jesus, sittin’ on the dashboard of my car…”
And if you have no idea what that last paragraph means, you have never watched Cool Hand Luke and you are not fit to live. Go away.
Anyway. I had my eggs, which I set aside. I had planned to use some Aldi knockwurst, which has favorably impressed me in the past, and which is the right size, but Aldi being Aldi, there wasn’t any when I went. So I fell back on history and tradition, and bought Boar’s Head ring bologna at Kroger. Where, I might add, it was on sale. Win! I sliced it an inch or so thick, halved it, and then halved the halves, giving me a bunch of pie-shaped slices.
Once I’d done THAT, I set about prepping the wide-mouth pint jars I’d bought specially for this project. Into each went a peeled and slightly crushed garlic clove; and a half (cut lengthwise) of a Serrano pepper and a Hatch red pepper; and two tablespoons of salt. The brine was a 4:1 mix of white vinegar and water. Put a layer of bologna chunks, a half-dozen eggs, and another layer of bologna chunks. Ran out of bologna after seven jars, still had lots of eggs, so the final jar was all eggs.
Put them in the water bath canner for just five minutes or so, enough to bring them to heat, pasteurize everything, and make the jars seal.
I will be anxious to find out how these babies taste, given that I totally winged it on the recipe. You ‘n y’mama ‘n ’em, if you’re on the basket list, let me know, wouldja?