Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Mystery of the Hard-Boiled Egg

You’d hardly think that something as simple as how to hard-boil an egg would cause much discussion, but in my little corner of the world, it has.

Here’s the scoop: For my entire life, I’ve made hard-boiled eggs – successfully, I need to add – the same way. I put eggs in a pan, cover with water, put on the stove. When the water comes to a boil, I turn off the heat, and let the eggs sit, covered, for 20 minutes. When they’re cool, I peel them.

Never a problem. Not until Dude’s eggs. One of the advantages of living in the jingle berries, aside from the peace and quiet, is getting fresh eggs from a great neighbor like Dude. Dude is a 70-something farmer who lives down the road and he’s been called Dude ever since he was seven or eight. (He can’t remember who christened him that or why but it stuck.) We started getting eggs from Dude’s chickens regularly a few months ago. They really are richer somehow; the yolks are more yellow and they seem to have more flavor, without any doctoring.

I know that fresh eggs are more difficult to peel when hard-boiled, and so when I was planning to make one of my husband’s favorite treats – pickled eggs – I let the eggs sit in the refrigerator for a good week or so to age them a bit before trying to cook them. But when I did, oh, they were so-o-o-o hard to peel. Seemed to take forever, and the eggs were all pock-marked. Didn’t hurt the flavor of the pickled eggs any; they just looked funny.

When I reported my misadventure to Dude, he told me that he’d never had a problem, even though his cooking method was similar. There are a couple slight differences: He’d let them sit a whole day in the warm water, then he'd put them in the fridge overnight. The next day, he would peel them. Now Dude really has only been cooking a lot in the past few years since his wife passed away, but I knew he knew what he was doing.

One day, he told me that he’d had a bunch of extra eggs, so he thought he’d hard-boil a dozen for me. The next day, he – untypically – called in the middle of the day, sounding a little frustrated and left a message saying, “Gotta bunch of torn-up eggs for you down here, if you want ‘em.”

Turned out that he’d had the same trouble I’d had this time. He even enlisted his grandson to help him peel the little devils, and Chas got frustrated, too: “This is going to take a long time, Papa.”

So I decided to research a bit and after Googling “how to hard-boil farm fresh eggs” I learned a lot. Some recommendations said, after starting the same way I usually did, to put the cooked eggs into ice water for a minute or two, like blanching vegetables, then back into simmering water for another minute or two. There were several recommendations using an ice water bath. One piece of advice was to add ¼ cup vinegar to the cooking water and boiling for 30 minutes. But I decided to trust the advice of the American Egg Board, and I learned all sorts of other things about eggs to boot – how to be sure to avoid the green stuff (don’t cook too long), how to center the yolk (lay the eggs on their side in the fridge). The egg board also says they're really hard cooked not hard-boiled, because boiling toughens them too much.

I’ve got a dozen pickled eggs right now, so it will be a while before I need them. But the eggs in my refrigerator are going to sit there until Easter before I even try again.

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