What comes first? Easter or the old “what-to-do-with-leftover-hard-boiled-eggs” story.
This year, at least, it looks like we can count on the country’s food writers to hit it from both sides: before and after the holiday. In past years, I’ve even made concessions to blogging about the concept on the suggestion of a former editor for whom a dearth of hard-boiled eggs was particularly troublesome.
But for my part, I can’t figure out why anyone is challenged to just eat the eggs they’ve cooked and decorated for Easter. A hard-boiled egg is a satisfying and low-calorie snack on the go. It even comes in its own, entirely biodegradable package. Also great as a sandwich or wrap filling, hard-boiled eggs add heft to green salads. Or peel an egg, halve it and drop it in a bowl of udon soup, maybe with some leftover Easter ham. Do I really need to go on?
OK, maybe if there were cracks in the shells, the food-safe dye seeped through to unattractively stain the whites. But if the egg was cooked properly (meaning the white is tender, and the yolk is golden and luscious) it still should be appetizing if not exactly worthy of a deviled-egg platter.
And therein lies the real problem: Too many people don’t know how to cook eggs to retain their attributes and prevent that slimy, sulfurous, greenish coating around the yolk. To top it off, cooking hard-boiled eggs is about the easiest thing one can do in a kitchen, just slightly harder than boiling water.
So why the terrible results? I blame an unfounded fear of eggs perpetuated for decades by food-safety experts warning of salmonella. People seem intent on cooking the life out of eggs to kill any rogue bacteria that numerous studies have shown are very unlikely to infect any egg — commercially produced or locally farm-fresh. All that angst and overdoing it in the kitchen has conspired to steer palates away from eggs, hard-boiled or otherwise.
Eggs are not sinister harbingers of pathogens and cholesterol. Chemically speaking, they’re basically little vats of protein. When heated, the strands of proteins unfold and link up, which is why egg “whites,” are clear when raw and white when cooked, according to a recent story in the Los Angeles Times.
The higher the temperature, the tighter the proteins link, firmly at first but then tight enough to squeeze out moisture, according to the Times. That’s why scrambled eggs cooked quickly over high heat are stiffer than ones cooked slowly over low heat. The former method also is bad, by the way.
According to the Times, the perfect temperature for a hard-cooked egg is about 160 F (a little lower for the white and a little higher for the yolk, but consider this an average).
If the eggs are heated gradually (as opposed to dropping cold eggs into boiling water), the shells are less likely to crack during cooking. Air gently leaks out through the porous shells.
That, my friends, validates the following method for hard-boiling eggs: Arrange them in a single layer in a wide pan. Cover them with water to a depth of several inches. Bring them to a boil, turn off the heat and let them stand in the hot water.
The Times’ resident food writer, Russ Parsons, advocates letting eggs stand in the water for 15 minutes. I prefer 10, which yields the texture I love and, on occasion, just a pinhead-sized drop of barely congealed yolk in the center.
After the 10 minutes are up, run the pan of eggs under cold water, changing it several times to stop the cooking process. Let them soak for several more minutes, even adding ice if you’re suspicious that they may be difficult to peel. The cold shrinks the egg just enough to pull it away from the shell.