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Friday, March 29, 2013

To Boil an Egg...and Then to Use It


The perfect boiled egg...how hard can that be? Actually, not too hard at all, but it can also be an elusive goal, especially if you want to avoid that gray-green ring around the outside of the yolk or to have the center still runny when you had hoped to make deviled eggs or use the slices as a garnish.

Now, with millions (billions?) of eggs meeting a watery fate in preparation for all this weekend's egg coloring fun, time to consider how best to get them cooked to perfection.

First, to "boiling" the perfect hard-cooked egg. This method works well for one egg or a dozen, so even after Easter, when you are ready to cook one egg, why not go ahead and boil up quite a few at once--they keep well in the refrigerator for up to a week.

If you hadn't noticed, I've been putting the word boiled in quotes; why? Because that's the classic name for this method of preparation, but you really want to stop cooking them just as the boiling starts; any longer and you'll have tough whites and really gray-ish yolks. 

Hard "Boiled" Eggs

eggs
water

Put as many eggs as you plan to prepare in a pan large enough to hold them in a single layer. Add enough cold water from the tap to just barely cover the eggs. Cover the pan and place on the burner.

Begin heating the eggs on high or medium high heat, and cook until the water just begins to show a rolling/rippling boil. Immediately remove from heat. Set a timer for the following amount of time:

Extra large eggs      16 to 17 minutes
Large eggs              14 minutes
Medium eggs          12 minutes

As soon as the timer goes off, pour off all the water and cover the eggs with cold water from the tap. Let sit for just a minute or two, until that water becomes warm, and pour it off, replacing it with more cold water. Alternatively, you can place the eggs under cold running water, but that seems pretty wasteful to me.

The whole idea is to get the eggs to stop cooking as quickly as possible after the timer has gone off.
Probably the trickiest step here is to watch for the eggs to come to a boil. Unfortunately, this is not a uniform time. If the eggs were at room temperature, the time will be shorter than if they are straight out of the refrigerator. A dozen eggs will take longer than two or six or whatever. So you'll have to just be a little alert--steam rising from the pan, the eggs starting to "rattle" in the pan as the water begins moving, etc. Maybe the easiest way to do this is to cook the eggs while you are preparing other foods, clearing the table, doing dishes, etc.




In case you are wondering about the holes in the shells in this picture: We all love to color far more eggs at our house than we could possibly eat, so I follow a practice taught me by my thrifty mother. In the weeks leading up to Easter, I use an ice pick to put holes in both ends of eggs I may be using for baking, scrambled eggs, etc. Then I blow out the contents into a cup, wash out the shells and let them dry thoroughly, and put them aside to be ready to supplement the ones we also boil. These are admittedly a little harder to dye, since they float in the solution, but they are also more amenable to decorations that aren't edible--and are super great for hanging on an Easter egg tree.

Even with these blown eggs, we still have plenty of cooked eggs to use up.  Now that eggs have lost the "bad guy" status in our diets, they can be a good way to boost the protein content of your menus at a relatively low cost, but how many times is your family really ready to eat another boiled egg with salt and pepper?! In my next post, I'll be including a recipe or two to get a little more variety into those leftover egg meals.

Some questions you may have:
  • How do I prevent the eggs from cracking while cooking?  Sometimes, the eggs will just have shells so thin, they will crack no matter how hard you try. If they do, they are still fine for eating, just not so pretty for coloring or making deviled eggs. And don't use any boiled eggs with cracks for Easter baskets or for egg hunts--the chance for bacteria entering these cracks is too high in these situations.
  • Is it really true that "old" eggs are easier to peel than fresh ones?  Yes, it seems as though the freshest eggs may still have the inner membrane more tightly attached to the shell than those that are a little older. However, using the approach above,  cooling the eggs as quickly as possible, seems to help a little with this problem too. Another way to make peeling eggs a little easier is to crack them and then kind of roll them around, to break up the shell a little more before trying to peel them. Sometimes, however, they just are going to make you work at getting the shell off.
  • What about food safety? My kids will be having an Easter egg hunt with real eggs. Is it true that I just have to automatically throw these out? NO. However, you do need to use some common sense. If you are having a hunt like this, keep the eggs refrigerated until right before hiding them. When the kids have finished finding them (hopefully every one of them!), count them, maybe even mark them with the initials of the person finding them, and then return them to the refrigerator until serving them.  

The U.S. Department of Agriculture makes the following recommendations on buying, keeping and preparing eggs:
•When buying eggs, get them from a refrigerated case, before the expiration date on the carton.
•Select eggs that look clean and uncracked.
•After leaving the grocery store, take the eggs straight home and refrigerate them immediately.
•Store eggs in their original carton in the main part of the refrigerator, instead of the door.
•Make sure the temperature in the refrigerator is at least 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
•Eggs should be used within three to five weeks from the date they were purchased.
•When preparing raw eggs, remember to wash your hands, as well as the surfaces and cooking utensils used, with hot soapy water, in order to prevent cross- contamination.
•Raw or cooked eggs should not be left at room temperature for more than two hours.
“When decorating eggs, hard-cook them and use food grade dye to color them if you intend to eat them,” said Haynes.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture makes the following recommendations on hiding, keeping and eating eggs:
•During Easter egg hunts, hide eggs away from animals, dirt and other sources of bacteria.
•Keep eggs in the refrigerator until right before the hunt and put them back in the refrigerator right after the hunt.
•Make sure the eggs have not been at room temperature for longer than two hours total.
•Consume hard-cooked eggs in their shells within a week of cooking, and egg dishes, like deviled eggs, within three to four days.

of course, what to do with all those eggs afterward. Now that eggs have lost the "bad guy" status in our diets, they can be a  good way to boost the protein content of your menus at a relatively low cost. The next post will have a recipe or two for fitting hard boiled eggs into the menus for the coming week.

2 comments:

  1. I understand--boiled eggs are pretty limited in what can be done with them. That's why I'll be posting a couple of different ways to try to use up all those hard-cooked Easter eggs tomorrow!

    ReplyDelete