I have been boiling eggs for 70 years, and I have made all the mistakes. For a long time, I would put the eggs in cold water, turn the heat to high, and let them boil away until I thought they were done – sometimes for as long as a half hour. The results were always the same: rubbery whites, tough yolks and a thick shell of green on the yolks. I just thought that was the way boiled eggs were supposed to be.
Eventually I learned that a well-boiled egg required scrupulous timing and careful temperature control. Those two changes improved my hard-boiled eggs, but I was still plagued by peeling the little gems. Sometimes, the egg would peel perfectly, but the next time with the same cooking conditions – I thought – great chunks of white would come off with the clinging shell. I read all sorts of treatises on eggs that guaranteed a “perfect” method for removing the shell. They all failed. Some talked about freshness of the egg being key. Others talked about chilling or heating. Sometimes the “no fail” method worked. Sometimes it didn’t. Julia Child, in her informative little book, Julia’s Kitchen Wisdom (Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2000), cited a method that she got from the State of Georgia Egg Board. The technique was very elaborate. You boiled the eggs, chilled them, brought the boiling water back up to temperature, boiled the eggs for a few seconds, and then chilled them again. I had a hard time remembering the instructions Even when I was sure that I had followed it exactly, the method sometimes worked, sometimes it didn’t.
Recently, I read of a technique, again “no fail”, in which you add baking soda to the boiling liquid. The explanation for the method is that the alkaline baking soda hastens congealing of the white and separates it from the membrane that lines the shell. I confess that I have not tried the method, but I am a bit skeptical that the baking soda penetrates the shell. Still…
The method that I have used at least a dozen times with unfailing success has appeared in the magazine, Cook’s Illustrated and in a report on the internet. The method benefits from ease and reliable guidelines. I wouldn’t presume to write about the science behind the method. For one thing, I wouldn’t understand it; for another, there’s a good chance that the explanation has just been made up. If you try cooking hard-boiled eggs by this technique, let me know your results.
- Bring the eggs to room temperature. Set them out of the refrigerator at least 2 hours before you plan to cook them.
- Pierce the large ends of the eggs with an egg piercer. This will let air escape from the air sac within the egg so that the egg will not crack while cooking. If you don’t have one of these handy gadgets, you can buy one at Amazon for $2-10.
- In a saucepan that has a tight-fitting lid and is large enough to hold the eggs in a single layer, add about 1 to 2 inches of water and a steamer basket that will hold the eggs above the level of the water.
- Bring the water to the boil. Place the eggs in a single layer in the steamer basket. Cover. Adjust the heat so that the water continues to boil but not so vigorously. Immediately start the timer.
- I cook the eggs for exactly 15 minutes, but I live at 7,000 feet above sea-level where water boils at 198°F instead of 212°F at sea-level. There, the cooking should take less time – perhaps as little as 10 minutes. – but you will have to do a little experimentation, depending upon the altitude where you live.
- When the timer goes off, transfer the eggs to a large bowl filled with ice and water. Cool the eggs for the same length of time as the cooking.
- Peel the eggs by cracking them all over on a hard surface. Then, under a thin stream of cold running water, peel the eggs, one at a time, beginning at the large end. You should be able to peel the eggs easily and with a smooth surface.
21 responses to “PEELING A HARD-BOILED EGG”
Interesting findings! I like my eggs soft boiled so I cook for just 10 minutes from cold. I don’t have an egg piercer, but have used a push pin. I don’t find much difference with pierced or non pierced eggs. I think it’s more important that you get water in-between the membrane and the egg. So either place the cracked egg under running water, or dunk it in the pot you’re using to cool the eggs, it doesn’t really matter.
Thanks for your comments. The mystique continues.
I honor your scientific approach to this maddening problem. I’ve tried a lot of “fail-safe” ways too, with very similar results. My latest approach is to pierce the broad ends of not-too-fresh eggs — (we buy jumbos) with a plain stickpin, which lives poked into a wine-bottle cork in a kitchen drawer — cover with cold water, boil 12 minutes, and then immediately immerse the eggs in cold water while cracking them all over (we call this “covering their heads with little bumps”) and letting them sit until whenever I remember to drain them, usually hours later. This works most of the time, but there is always that nasty kind of egg that glues each individual centimeter of its shell to a corresponding bit of egg, no matter what. I think they must have been laid by hens that hate people.
Your light-hearted approach to the most vexing ancient problems of the kitchen always picks me up. Thanks for the reminder about egg size. Right now I am using large eggs but when I was using jumbo eggs I had to add 2 minutes to the cooking time. (I wonder if NYC jumbo eggs are the same size as New Mexico jumbos?) If you give this system a try, let me know how it works out.
Re jumbo eggs: USDA guidelines say they should be 30 ounces per dozen, for an average of about 2.5 ounces apiece. I just weighed mine, and they ranged from 2.25 to 2.75; six of them came in at 15.75. If you aren’t buying jumbos these days, can you carry a surreptitious scale into one of your stores and test the local eggs?
That’s a good idea, though I might get arrested. There is probably an app for my cell phone that would be unobtrusive. It might be safer just to buy a dozen jumbos.
Today I bought some jumbo eggs. Most weighed 2 5/8 ounces. The smallest was 2 3/8 ounces. The largest was 3 ounces – a whopper. I’m sure it will have a double yolk. Now the burning question is: Are jumbo eggs bigger in Texas??
I do agree totally with you Daryll, that boiling an egg is a science and needs experience. I have finally found one that works for me but like you said sometimes cleaning them can be tricky but my consolation is that I do not get the grey ring around the yolk.
Glad that you’ve developed a system that works for you. I also agree with you that a resistant she’ll is preferable to the dreaded grey ring – sort of like a ring around the bath tub. 😄
I live at 3600 feet or so, and 15 minutes seems to be perfect for where I live to not get the ring of shame. I have never pierced my eggs, and try to use older eggs. I get fresh-laid eggs from a friend with chickens, so do buy those store-bought older eggs to boil and they seem to peel way better I found. Thanks for the post! xo
Thanks for your useful pointers. You are very lucky to get really fresh eggs.
All great suggestions! I boil my water and add baking soda, I place the eggs and boil for one minute, turn the heat off and then let them sit in the pot for 10 minutes. After that I place the pot under cold running water for a minute or so. They always peel super easy and they are perfectly cooked with that fluffy yolk.
Thanks for sharing your method. It seems like there are as many ways to hard boil an egg so that it peels easily as there are cooks.
I guess so! 😀
I read and reread the post. How useful it is for me. I have the same problem with peeling the eggs. I have never tried steam boiling eggs. I will try all the tips you have given from now. I like to make boiled eggs with runny yolk but am worried about peeling them. Works well once and doesn’t another time. Will try the steam boiling technique. Thank you for sharing ☺👍
Let me know about your success with the method, especially with soft-boiled and mollet eggs with their shorter cooking time.
Beautiful looking eggs!
Thanks. After years of trying I have found a method that really works.
I tried the steam boiling recipe and it worked like a charm. No ugly green ring. What a good idea!
It is amazing and it only took me 70 years to learn about it.
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