How many ways are there to hard-cook an egg?
No two people we asked had the same method. And it appears plenty of us can’t quite get it right.
A 2010 survey of mothers by the Park Ridge-based American Egg Board reported that when quizzed on hard-cooking methods, seven out of 10 chose techniques that would result in overcooked eggs.
“Hard-boiled egg” is a misnomer, says chef Jeffrey Saad, a spokesman for the board’s “The Incredible Edible Egg” and host of the Cooking Channel’s “United Tastes of America.” “The key is to take the word ‘boiling’ out of your vocabulary. You have to let your eggs cook gently, since boiling them will leave a green ring around the yolk and make the whites tough.”
Perfecting the egg
The Egg Board recommends placing large eggs in a pan big enough to hold them in a single layer. Cover with water by 1 inch. Heat on high just to boiling. Remove the pan from the burner, cover and let stand about 15 minutes (12 minutes for medium eggs; 18 for extra-large), and then drain and cool completely under cold running water or in a bowl of ice water.
Derek Simcik, the chef at Atwood Cafe, 1 W. Washington uses a variant: “Once the water starts to boil, turn on the timer to 3 minutes. When the timer goes off, quickly take off the heat, put on the lid and reset the timer to 8 minutes.”
Ina Pinkney, chef and owner of Ina’s, 1235 W. Randolph, cooks eggs at a slow boil for 5 to 8 minutes.
Rachel Collins, president of Collins Caviar Co. and chef-proprietor of Cottage Culinaire catering in Union Pier, Mich., puts the pan on a low flame for 6 to 8 minutes, then turns up the heat to medium-high for 1 or 2 minutes.
“My personal ideal egg has a tiny bit of barely runny yolk in the very center,” Collins says. “Not really runny, but dark and not powdery-cooked all the way. Hard to do!”
On his show “More Fast Food My Way,” Jacques Pepin recommends pricking the large end of each egg with a pin, adding the eggs to already simmering water and cooking for 10 minutes.
According to Pepin, pricking the shells lets pressure equalize and gases escape. The American Egg Board, however, doesn’t recommend poking holes into your eggs, says Howard Helmer, another Egg Board expert, because of concerns that the pin might introduce bacteria.
We also tried a Sephardic method of dry-roasting eggs in their shells at 225 degrees for five hours. It created lovely looking eggs with beautifully browned egg whites.
Our eggs-periments showed the Egg Board’s method to be the simplest and most foolproof, although we found their timing a little long. We turned out perfect extra-large eggs at just 12 minutes.
But the beauty of this method is that precise timing isn’t critical. Eggs left soaking in the cooling hot water for up to 20 minutes showed scarcely a trace of green ring.
The greenish halo is harmless, says Helmer. It doesn’t affect taste, but some people find it unsightly. The ring forms from a reaction between sulfur in the egg white and iron in the yolk that occurs with long cooking or too high a temperature.
Stop the cooking by getting the eggs into cold water fast once they’re done. A good chill helps in getting the shells off cleanly, too.
“They will peel best if you set them in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes to an hour,” advises Simcik.
The best trick for ensuring that your eggs peel well, though, Helmer says, is to buy them at least a week ahead of time — fresh eggs stick to the shells. Peeling under running water also helps.
Decorating eggs in the spring, a symbol of renewal and fertility, dates back well before Christ. The natural dyes likely used by ancient pagans can easily be duplicated at home by boiling common kitchen ingredients such as onion skins, beets and spinach. (Go to incredibleegg.org/egg-facts/eggcyclopedia/d/decorating-eggs for complete instructions.)
Don’t stop at coloring the outer shells. A platter of tangy, jewel-toned pickled eggs and subtly spiced, marbled Chinese tea eggs would enhance any holiday table. Or you can pickle leftover dyed eggs after your Easter egg hunt.
For safety’s sake, reuse only hard-cooked eggs that show no cracks and haven’t been out of refrigeration for more than two hours.
Refrigerate cooked eggs in their shells for up to a week, the Egg Board advises; once out of the shells, use them within a day or two.
Beyond egg salad
The week after Easter is traditionally Egg Salad Week. Salads, deviled eggs and garnishes likely top America’s favorite ways to use up leftover hard-cooked eggs. Simcik uses a cheese grater to create a hard-cooked egg topping for fresh asparagus in lieu of hollandaise. Helmer uses a chopped egg garnish on spinach.
Other cultures go beyond America’s simple hard-cooked egg dishes. Even egg salad need not be pedestrian.
“A Russian boyfriend’s mom taught me a classic from Kiev,” says Collins. “Chopped hard-cooked eggs, thin-sliced raw radish and scallion and lots — like crazy lots — of chopped dill. Sour cream and plenty of salt and pepper. Fab!”
Russians also make a savory, layered fish pie called coulibiac, with a stratum of sliced hard-cooked eggs. Italians do a meat and egg pie called scarciedda (the inspiration for Chicago’s stuffed pizza). Papadzules, a Mexican specialty, features mole-soaked tortillas rolled around a filling of hard-cooked eggs.
A French gratin, oeufs a la boulangiere (eggs in the style of the baker’s wife), bakes hard-cooked eggs in an onion-flavored white sauce with cheese. In one of Pepin’s favorites, oeufs Jeanette, he sautes stuffed eggs.
Hard-cooked eggs simmered in curry sauce are featured in numerous Indian and Pakistani recipes. Anglo-Indian kedgeree, a curried mixture of smoked fish and rice, also incorporates hard-cooked eggs.
Scotch eggs, a classic British pub snack, encase the hard-cooked eggs in a deep-fried crust of sausage and crumbs. “Some people say they were the first fast food,” Helmer says.
Traditional European cookie recipes such as spritz and Berlinerkranzen incorporate hard-cooked egg yolks, and enterprising bakers have discovered that you can leave out raw eggs altogether and use whole hard-cooked eggs in cookies.
New research from the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows that the cholesterol in a single large egg has decreased by 14 percent and Vitamin D has risen by 64 percent since the department’s last analysis in 2002. Eggs remain high in protein and 70 calories each, and cost about 15 cents a piece.
So crack out of your Easter leftover shell and enjoy.
Leah A. Zeldes is a local free-lance writer.