One of the first things we said that we would do when we moved to the countryside was buy chickens. Real live clucking, pecking, laying chickens so that we could have the freshest organic eggs possible. Unfortunately, these have gradually slipped down the shopping list to make way for more essential items such as a sofa or bookcases to house the many hundreds of books we’ve collected over the years. And to be perfectly honest, I can barely look after courgettes and kale so it is probably best that I get used to tending plants before I’m entrusted with something that breathes and craps.
The benefit of living the rural life though is that we don’t have to go very far to get our eggs even though we haven’t invested in any hens ourselves as yet. A mere four houses down the road is the extent of the distance we have to travel to buy eggs laid by happy birds free to see the sky above or peck at worms and bugs below.
We usually go for plain old hens’ eggs, occasionally stretching to duck eggs if we are feeling indulgent – the yolks are larger and richer and they poach beautifully thanks to their freshness. But in addition to these conventional ova, quail and bantam eggs are also on sale.
Now, I’ve never really been able to see the point of quail eggs. They make a relatively good garnish. If you are crafting a selection of canapés, for example, then a fried quail’s egg sitting proudly atop a morsel of toasted truffle brioche is a delicious mouthful but they have little everyday application.
I was also unfamiliar with the bantam breed until quite recently. These are about half the size of a traditional brown hen with eggs proportionally smaller which is why we’ve never really bothered with them before. It would seem that we aren’t the only ones and our egg people struggle to sell them, instead they gave us a box for free on Saturday morning for which we were truly grateful and curiously intrigued.
They are an absolute revelation. On cracking one into a hot pan, I was surprised by how much egg managed to fit into such a small shell. The yolk was a deep yellow and larger than any supermarket yolk I’ve ever seen. It took less than a minute to cook and, once done, I slid it onto a waiting slice of home-baked bread, lightly toasted and generously buttered so that a little of the butter dribbled over the side. Topped with no more than black pepper and a few flakes of sea salt, this was comfort food at its delicious and simplistic best – guaranteed to force and smile and convince me that these bantams pack a serious punch.
I couldn’t write a post about chickens without mentioning the fantastic ‘Chicken Out’ campaign for a free-range future. Sign up here.