8 Things You Didn’t Know About…Boiling an Egg
There’s something profound about the elegant simplicity of a good hard-boiled egg. Yes, you can certainly mash them into a creamy egg salad or serve them up deviled as the quintessential hors d’oeuvre. But really, they’re just about perfect almost as they are: peeled, with just a pinch of salt.
It’s interesting that the ability to boil an egg (or lack thereof) long ago became the means by which we disparage someone’s skill as a cook (e.g., “She can’t even boil an egg!”). While it’s true that “boiling” an egg is probably one of the easiest things you’ll ever do in the kitchen (after making toast), getting a good “hard-boiled” egg isn’t as simple as tossing it into a pot of boiling water. (Why am I suddenly putting quotes around “hard-boiled”? See item #1 below.) Done right, the ideal hard-cooked egg has a silky white and a moist, creamy yolk. Is it hard to do, though? Hardly.
Hard-boiled eggs should not, in fact, be boiled. The roiling water can cause the shell to crack, and the high temperature can make for rubbery eggs. They should be “hard cooked” instead.
Like many gourmands, renowned San Francisco chef Alice Waters essentially follows McGee’s approach — sans the thermometer. Here’s how she describes her method of hard cooking eggs in The Art of Simple Food: “Let the eggs sit at room temperature while bringing a pot of water to a boil. Turn the water down to a simmer and gently lower the eggs into the water with a slotted spoon. Adjust the temperature so the water stays just below a simmer, and cook for 9 minutes. Lift the eggs out of the water and plunge them immediately into ice water.”
Why do the yolks of hard-cooked eggs sometimes get an ugly greenish-gray patina? That’s ferrous sulfide, formed by a chemical reaction during cooking between the sulfur in the egg white and the iron in the yolk. It’s harmless, but you can minimize it by reducing cooking time to the bare minimum and by submerging hard-cooked eggs into cold water or an ice bath right out of the pot.
People have been eating hard-cooked eggs (of all sorts, from chickens to geese—even pelicans) at least since the days of the Egyptian Pharaohs. Ancient Greeks ate them for dessert, while during the Renaissance, Italians garnished their salads with them.
Aside from the egg’s obvious symbolism in relation to spring (fertility, new life), the practice of eating hard-cooked eggs at Easter likely originated for more practical reasons. Eggs were forbidden during Lent, so any that were laid during that time needed to be preserved. Hard cooking was one way to do that.
If the Easter Bunny visits your house and you plan on eating the hard-cooked eggs he hides, ask him to hide the eggs within 2 hours of the hunt — if they’re left out longer at room temperature, they’re liable to go bad. Hard-cooked eggs keep in the fridge about a week.
Love a good hard-cooked egg? Try one of our delicious egg salad or deviled egg recipes!