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.