Saturday, June 25, 2011

Hard-Boiled Eggs


The Secret to Quick, Easy, and Fool-Proof Preparation

Eggs are almost the perfect food. Inexpensive, high in protein, chockfull of nutrients.

And until recently many of us have been avoiding them because of their cholesterol risk. Fortunately, scientists now are largely in agreement that the dangers eggs represent to our health have been overstated (I have more information about this, plus links to scientific sources, in my Red Pepper and Onion Frittata post). Indeed, many doctors now urge us to include eggs in our diets.

So now that we can eat eggs again, many of us enjoy them frequently. Most days, I have a hard-boiled egg and fruit for breakfast. And what could be easier than boiling eggs?

Well, as many cooks discover, there are pitfalls to be avoided. Discolored yolks and hard-to-peel shells are two frequent problems. But there’s a secret to overcoming those problems.



hard-boiled egg slices on black acrylic

Recipe: Hard-Boiled Eggs

This foolproof method on how to boil an egg was developed by the Georgia Egg Commission. Several food writers have refined the commission’s work — most notably Julia Child in several of her cookbooks, including The Way to Cook. She also developed a unique procedure for peeling eggs, which I have summarized below.

The most important thing about this recipe is to use a pot that contains sufficient water. You need at least a 2½-quart pot for 4 or fewer eggs, a 4-quart pot for 12 or fewer eggs. This assumes you’ll fill the pot with water to within an inch of the brim.

The next important thing is to use older eggs — at least two weeks old. Why? Because as eggs age, their white shrinks somewhat, creating more of an air bubble in the eggshell. A larger air bubble makes the eggs much easier to peel. (See section on peeling eggs for dealing with how to peel fresher eggs.)

This recipe produces 12 hard-boiled eggs. You can easily adjust it to prepare the number of eggs you require.

Ingredients
  • 12 eggs, at least 2 weeks old (if you’re cooking fewer eggs, the procedure is the same)
  • water
Procedure
  1. Place eggs in 4-quart or larger saucepan or pot, preferably one with a broad base (all eggs must fit on one level — no stacking).
  2. Fill pot with water to within an inch of the top (or if your pot is bigger, cover eggs with at least 1-inch of water).
  3. Cover pot, put on cold burner, turn heat on to high.
  4. Stay close to the stove! For this recipe, it’s critical that you know when the water begins to boil. Most stoves will require at least 5 minutes to bring the water to boil, so if you must leave for a few minutes, Alanna Kellogg of the blog, A Veggie Venture, suggests setting a timer to go off in no more than 5 minutes so you won’t forget the eggs.
  5. Once the water comes to a good simmer (not a rolling boil, but with many bubbles breaking the surface), turn off the heat, remove the pot from the heat source (you don’t want residual heat keeping the cooking water hot), cover the pot, and turn your timer on for 16 minutes (see notes).
  6. 6hen the timer goes off, you want to get your eggs out of the hot water and into cold water as quickly as possible. There are two methods that work. One is to fill a large bowl nearly full with cold water, add two cups of ice to it, then use a slotted spoon to fish the eggs out of the cooking water and put them into the ice water. Or (what I usually do) is pick up the pot (using potholders), slide the lid back about an inch so the water can escape but the eggs can’t, and then being very careful not to burn myself with the hot water, drain the water into the sink. I refill the pot with cold water, drain immediately, and fill again, this time adding 2 cups of ice to the water.
  7. Let the eggs sit in the cold water for 15 minutes or so. Then either store them in the refrigerator, or peel them and use.
egg slicer slicing hard-boiled egg parallel to equator
Slicing a Hard-Boiled Egg

Peeling Hard-Boiled Eggs
  1. When your eggs are older, it’s usually not a problem to get a cleanly peeled egg (i.e., one with no shell sticking). So with older eggs, begin by just cracking the shell all over. (I usually crack it, then roll the egg on the counter, applying a little downward pressure to get a nice network of additional cracks). The large end of the egg contains the air pocket, and usually the eggshell there will be slightly indented from the cracking. Starting there, carefully begin peeling the eggshell and its membrane from the egg itself. Sometimes peeling under cold running water (or in a basin of cold water) facilitates peeling of recalcitrant eggs.
  2. If your eggs are fresher than 2 weeks, consider using Julia Child’s method. Before boiling, she suggests pricking the large end of each egg with a pin (such as a push pin) or an egg pricker. (OK, throw me out of the foodie club, but I have never done this; the rest of her method works well enough that I’m not convinced this step is necessary.) Then when the eggs are cooked, use a slotted spoon to remove them from the cooking water and place in a large bowl filled with cold water and ice. Let sit for 2 minutes. Meanwhile, bring cooking water back to a boil. Transfer no more than 6 eggs at a time back into the boiling water, and boil them for 10 seconds. Then remove from the water again, crack the shells in several places, and return to ice water to cool for at least 15 minutes. The idea is that cooling and reboiling causes eggs to separate slightly from their shells.
  3. Julia Child’s method works, but it’s more trouble than I usually care to take. So I only use it when I need pristine peeled eggs. The rest of the time? If some of my eggs have little chunks of white missing, I usually don’t care. If I’m worried about it, I’ll prepare several more hard-boiled eggs than I need. That way, even if I have a few duds, there will be enough good-looking ones for my purposes.
Notes
  • Cooking time is important for hard-boiled eggs because excess heat is what discolors the yolk. By cooking the eggs until the whites and yolks are sufficiently set, then immediately chilling the eggs in cold water, you virtually eliminate the chance of having discolored yolks.
  • I’ve seen recipes that suggest cooking with the method described above anywhere from 12 to 18 minutes. I’ve determined that for the amount of water I use and the time it takes my stove to heat the water, 15 or 16 minutes is ideal. But feel free to experiment to see what works for you. By the way, hard-boiled eggs with a slightly underdone yolk are delicious.
  • If you’re cooking fewer than a dozen eggs (which you’ll often want to do), the procedure is the same, but you can use a smaller pot. For 4 eggs I use a 2½-quart saucepan, filled nearly to the top with water. For more than 4 eggs I always use a 4-quart pot. I haven’t tried more than a dozen eggs at a time, but you’d definitely need a bigger pot, probably 6 quarts at a minimum.

Turn egg 90 degrees and slice a second time if you want diced eggs

Slicing and Dicing Hard-Boiled Eggs

Many recipes require sliced or diced hard-boiled eggs (as salad garnish, for example). The only way I know to get consistently even slices without tears is using an egg slicer. (Using a knife doesn’t work well unless your blade is extremely thin. Once you make a slice, the yolk tends to stick to the knife and pull away from the white.)

For diced eggs, slice the eggs in your egg slicer the normal way. Then turn your eggs 90 degrees and slice them again lengthwise. If you’re particularly finicky about making sure all your egg dices are perfectly square, you can put the egg on its end and slice down through the tip — assuming you can get the egg to balance without all the slices disintegrating. I’m not that finicky.

Applications for Hard-Boiled Eggs

Hard-boiled eggs are excellent when eaten all by themselves, perhaps with salt and pepper. They're great when made into Egg Salad. Who can resist an egg salad sandwich?  I also use them often to garnish salads, such as my spinach salad with hot bacon dressing.

And they’re a natural in American (Mayonnaise) Potato Salad. In fact, they’re a required ingredient for my American Potato Salad, which I’ll be posting about soon as we continue with Potato Salad Fortnight.

You may also enjoy reading about:

Egg Salad
Poached Eggs
Fried Eggs
American (Mayonnaise) Potato Salad
Potato Salad Basics
French Potato Salad
German Potato Salad
Curried Sweet Potatoes with Hard-Boiled Eggs
Spinach Salad with Hot Bacon Dressing

17 comments:

  1. Gorgeous, first of all. What is it about a hard boiled egg that is simple, yet elegant?

    I've always been intimidated to make HBE. Something about the uncertainty of it all. I'll be giving it a whirl soon, though.

    Happy writing and eating!

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  2. Hi Amy, thanks for stopping by. And in particular, thanks for the compliment. I agree that hard-boiled eggs are rather elegant. And really pretty, if you look at them properly. Anyway, thanks.

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  3. RE: the Julia Child method... I believe the whole idea with the pin-prick in the large end is to allow the air to escape from the bubble in the end, and the white will fill in the gap as it cooks, so you have "prettier" hard boiled eggs with no bubble in them. I guess this would be something to try for something like deviled eggs for a fancy buffet.

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  4. If you don't want to watch the pot boil....... use your electric kettle. I fill the kettle with water place 2-3 eggs in the cold water and turn the kettle on. The kettle turns itself off once the water boils, Leave the eggs in the water for 15 minutes and transfer to a cold water bath.

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  5. @Anonymous #1 re pin-prick: good description about how this works. Agree that if you want really great looking eggs this would be worth a try. Thanks for the comments.

    @Anonymous @2, the electric kettle is a great idea. I know Alton Brown is a big advocate of them. Thanks for reminding me about that. Only downside is, as you point out, it's good for only a few eggs. But if that's all you want - and you have an electric kettle (I do, actually) - that's the perfect solution. Thanks for your comment.

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  6. Are you starting with cold eggs, or room temperature? I like the method, but am not sure if I need to adjust the time for eggs right out of the fridge.

    Thanks!

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  7. Hi Rebecca, good question. I start out with eggs right out of the fridge. As the water gradually warms, it warms they up to the equivalent of room temperature in a hurry, so it really doesn't matter for this recipe (I have tried it with eggs at room temperature - though it's been awhile - and it doesn't seem to make any difference in cooking time. Thanks commenting.

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  8. The picture of the egg at the top of this article, is not fully cooked.
    For a perfect HBE everytime.
    Put eggs in 3 quart pan, fill with cold water, bring to a boil.
    Continue cooking at a low boil for 12 minutes.
    After 12 minutes remove from heat, dump the hot water.
    Fill pan of hot eggs with cold water and ice cubes.
    Perfect easy hard boiled eggs everytime.
    Thank You.

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    Replies
    1. Hi Anonymous, actually the egg is fully cooked. The yellow does look slightly undercooked, though - there's a lot of contrast and some flare in this picture, so the yellow isn't showing its true colors. Anyway, thanks for the alternative way of cooking hard-boiled eggs! I've done it that way, too, but prefer just turning off the heat and letting them sit an extra few minutes. Thanks for your comment.

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  9. I will give you a very simple way to hard boil eggs. First off you need a pressure cooker. Then all you do is place the metal tray in the bottom, place 8 eggs in the bottom, put in one cup of water, lock the lid on, put the regular on top. turn on the stove to hot, once the regular starts to jiggle, turn to medium and time 6 minutes. Then take off at once, and put cooker lid under water, and let pressure drop. Open lid and fill with cold water. Eggs will come out of shell very easy. To me this way is fool proof.

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    Replies
    1. Hi James, if that works for you, go for it! I don't have a pressure cooker, alas, so your method won't work for me. Thanks for the comment.

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  10. Never boiled eggs before, so I have a few questions... How would I adjust the timing if my oven takes longer to heat to a boil? Would it be okay to add salt so that the water boils faster?

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    1. Hi Anonymous, I assume you mean if your stovetop takes longer to bring the pot to a boil? The timing should remain the same. You can add salt if you want, although you'd have to add an awful lot of salt to appreciably reduce the time it takes the water to come to a boil. Thanks for the comment.

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  11. John, that top photo is a cracker! Stunning! And what an informative post! Sharing it now, many thanks!

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    Replies
    1. Hi Lizzy, that was such a fun photo to take! There's a lot wrong with it (way too much flare - this was an early photo, when I was still learning) but it remains one of my favorites. Thanks so much for your kind words, and comment.

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  12. Recently I tried a method totally new to me, that I read about in a "country" magazine...STEAMING...
    15 minutes and then into the ice & water bath...they peel easily and you can even use eggs that have been collected the same day.
    I was skeptical, so I only used 3 eggs...it worked perfectly.
    I hope you will try it. :-)

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    Replies
    1. Hi Anonymous, I've read of the steaming method but never tried it. It strikes me that it is more ore less the same as using the boiling method, but I should test it just to see. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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