Saturday, April 23, 2011

Hard Boiled Eggs for Easter

Easter means hard boiled eggs!
We've all done them a thousand times- or at least every Easter weekend. Most of us have discovered that something that seems as easy as hard boiling a batch of eggs is a great deal more difficult we first thought. It is very easy to end up with a batch of undercooked eggs with soft spots, eggs that refuse to peel easily, or eggs that are just overcooked and have that unpleasant looking layer of greenish stuff on the outside of the yolk. Maybe your eggs have exploded or cracked in the pot and leaked messy egg white all over the place. There are a thousand things that can go wrong with such a simple idea as boiling a few eggs...

Personally, I'm more worried about under cooking my eggs than overcooking them. A little of the green stuff on the yolk doesn't bother me if it's not too severe, but there's no going back if your eggs are undercooked and you don't discover it until it's too late. There are a few simple tricks that can help overcome all of these problems, and make the elusive perfect hard boiled egg a much easier target.

First off, if your eggs are fresh, you'll have a problem- eggs that are farm fresh are actually too fresh- have too much moisture, and the egg white is too connected to the membrane that lives just under the shell, so no matter what you do to them, you'll have a hard time peeling them. The solution is to use eggs that have been sitting a few days in the refrigerator- they've had enough time that that they've lost a little moisture, and the membrane will separate from the white more easily. Most eggs you find in a grocery store have already spent some time sitting around in a cool, dry refrigerator, but it doesn't hurt to give them an extra day to hang out at home before you cook them.

I usually do either two dozen, or two eighteen packs of eggs at once for Easter. Put your eggs in a large enough pot, then add enough cold water to cover them. This helps with cracking- you're starting everything cold so there's no sudden "shock" of heat that can cause cracks. You may still get a few cracks (they're almost impossible to stop completely)- but you'll find fewer breaks, and less drastic breaks this way. You also avoid the issue of having to drop eggs in already boiling water- which will give them a temperature shock, risk cracking when they thump to the bottom of the pot, and risk splashing boiling-hot water  all over you.

Start your Eggs in cold water, add a little salt and vinegar, and you'll have fewer cracks
Before you turn on the heat, another recommendation that may prove helpful is to add a little salt, and a little vinegar to the water- about a teaspoon of each. The salt and vinegar will help with the eggs that do develop cracks by helping the egg white coagulate rather than leak out all over the place. Some people consider this a myth, and may also claim that the vinegar leave a funny taste on the eggs- but personally I haven't had a problem, so I see no harm. Chemically speaking, there is some science supporting the idea, but your mileage may vary. It seems to work for me without any noticeable effect on flavor.

Start the heat on high, but don't walk too far away. In about 5-10 minutes depending on your stove and how big the pot is, your water should reach a full boil.  Once you get to a full boil, back the heat down to a simmer, and let the boil continue for a few minutes- some sources say just one minute, I let it go about 2-3 minutes. Once you've simmered for a bit, turn off the heat and watch the clock. Let the eggs sit in the hot water- this will continue cooking the eggs, and as time goes on and the water loses heat, the cooking will slow down- which will make it much easier to find and stop the cooking when they're just right. You'll need to let them sit like this for about 10-15 minutes.

There are many methods to check doneness - some claim that fully cooked egg will spin easily on the counter-top while an undercooked one will wobble. Yes, there is science to back that up too, but there's no substitute for cracking one open and checking. I usually end up dropping one or two eggs at some point anyway, so it's worth the sacrifice. Pull one egg out with a slotted spoon- if any have cracks, grab one of those since they won't be quite as pretty anyway. You may want to run it under cold water if it's too hot to handle before opening it. Remember- if the egg is hot, it will be difficult to peel, so don't get too upset if you have trouble with this one. As they cool, the egg white will shrink a little and they will peel more easily. For my test egg, I just crack the shell and split it in half, making sure I break the yolk in half as well. It should look solid through the middle of the yolk  with no soft spots, and the outside of the yolk should look clean (although most people don't mind a little green stain, there's no reason not to try to get it perfect!). If it looks like it needs more time, turn the heat back on a little and try again in a few more minutes.

A perfect hard-boiled egg will have a cooked through yolk with a clean outer surface
When you know your eggs are done, pull them out of the hot water with a slotted spoon. I prefer to let them air cool for a bit then rinse with cold water before refrigerating so they cool down a little more slowly (too fast and they will crack). Once they cool, the shell should pull away from the white more easily than your test egg, and they'll be ready for a bath in your kid's favorite egg coloring kit, or just ready to eat with a little sprinkle of salt. Happy Easter!

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