If you can boil water, can you boil an egg? Of course you can, but can you perfect the hard-boiled egg? That’s what I tried to answer today. The earlier post on deviled egg tips triggered a Facebook conversation about the best methods for peeling, and consequently boiling an egg.
I’ve always taken a slightly willy-nilly approach, taking my eggs from the fridge, bringing them to a boil in lots of water, and then simmering for about 10 minutes before flushing them with cold water. It worked just fine but sometimes I’d get that ugly greenish ring about the yolk or rubbery whites – marks of careless cooking on my part.
So I decided to buy a dozen eggs and boil them. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel, so I looked for guidance from these reliable reference works: James Beard’s American Cookery (reprint edition, 2010), Julia Child’s The Way to Cook (1993), Shirley Corriher’s Cookwise (1997) Cook’s Illustrated’s The New Best Recipes (2004), Michael Ruhlman’s Twenty (September 2011, I have an advance copy). I cross-referenced, tested, and tinkered and came up with the following realizations:
- Room temperature eggs: Gena Lew pointed out on Facebook that she lets her eggs get to room temperature before boiling them. That makes them easier to peel. I found that the temperature of the eggs affected how quickly the water came to a boil, not how easily the eggs peeled. The tip was useful in that I got more beautiful creamy yellow yolks with eggs that were at room temperature. They simply took less time overall because the water came to a boil faster, hence they spent less time cooking in hot water.
- Coddle the eggs: Many people suggested bring the eggs to a boil and then turning off the heat, covering the pot with a lid and letting the eggs slowly cook for 10 to 15 minutes. That’s not boiling, it’s coddling, which Child points out is a more gentle cooking process. You can also bring the eggs to a near boil, then lower the heat to simmer for about 10 minutes.
- Start with lots of cold water: Don’t be skimpy, says Cook’s Illustrated and Ruhlman. Add cold tap water to cover the eggs by about 3/4 inch of water is what I did. This is why the room temperature eggs is important. If the eggs and water were cold, it would take longer to bring the pot to a boil, and I ended up slightly over cooking a batch.
- Use a moderate-size pot: The eggs need to sit in one layer and be covered by a good amount of water. However don’t cook 2 eggs in a 4-quart pot because you’ll have too much water to boil. I used a tall 1 1/2 quart saucepan for 3 eggs.
- Chill in an ice bath: When the eggs are done, chill them down quickly to prevent the greenish ring from forming and to make peeling easier. I used half an ice tray to 2 cups of cold water for each batch of 3 eggs.
- Age of the eggs: Some say that older eggs are easier to peel but I tested eggs that had “expired” on July 16 with eggs that will “expire” on September 1. Both peeled just as easily, though the older eggs had a slightly stronger sulfurous quality.
- Crack and roll: That’s a great way to get the shells off. I made a short video on how to perfectly peel eggs.
- Centered yolks: After writing about how to center the yolks for beautiful deviled eggs, I lost the ability to do that with these experiments. Maybe my eggs were too fresh? Many of them were more oval than egg-shape. In any event, I found a workaround and updated that post!
Eggs require finesse, as Ruhlman points out in Twenty, which is filled with terrific tips and master techniques and recipes. Think of cooking perfect eggs like cooking a pot of perfect rice. You just need practice and a bit of understanding. Boiled eggs keep for days in the fridge and have innumerable uses. You’ll eat up all your boo-boos and perfect eggs.
I did my trials with three (3) eggs at a time and have simply doubled the quantities here. When boiling 4 eggs for the north Indian egg curry, use a smaller pot and the half of the amount of ice and water for the ice bath.
6 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tray of ice cubes
1. Select a medium saucepan in which the eggs can lay in one layer. Put the eggs in the pan and add enough cold water to cover by 3/4 inch.
2. Over high heat, bring the pan to a full boil. Turn off the heat, cover and slide the pan to a cool burner. Let it sit for 10 minutes to finish cooking the eggs. (Or, bring the pan to a near boil then lower the heat to maintain that simmer for 10 minutes.)
3. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, make an ice bath of the tray of ice cubes and 4 cups of water. When the eggs have finished cooking, use a slotted spoon to transfer each one to the ice bath. Let the eggs cool for at least 5 minutes or up to 30 minutes before using; if the eggs are slightly warm, you can still peel them well but the cooler they are, the easier they seem to peel. See the video tip on how to easily peel eggs if you’d like extra perfect eggs.
Got a tip for foolproof hard-boiled eggs? Share your knowledge below!
- Deviled Egg Tips: Centered yolks and medium eggs
- How to easily peel eggs
- North Indian Egg and Spiced Tomato Curry Recipe (Anda Masala)
- Instant Feel-Good Foods: Deviled Eggs and Kewpie Mayonaise