Friday, June 3, 2011

Kitchen Challenge: Hard-Boiled Eggs, Part I

I LOVE a nicely hard-boiled egg. I love them with just a little kosher salt, I love them as egg salad, I love them pretty much any way I can get them. I've even gone so far as to go through multiple batches, changing up my hard-boiling "technique" so that I can consistently get them cooked just the way I personally like them: yolk just barely set, no green ring, whites tender as all get out.

My problem stems from the fact that peeling these little ovular delicacies can be ... well, gentle reader, there is no better way to say this ... a real pain in the ass. And for all that care and dedication you put into cooking the perfect egg, when you end up with a peeled egg that looks like it might have taken a tour of duty through the worst parts of Afghanistan, it can make you feel quite frustrated. Of course, if the destination for the eggs is in something else (e.g., egg salad, potato salad), it isn't quite as big a deal. But if you are going for presentation eggs, then this is just not acceptable.

About three weeks ago, I bought a dozen eggs from my local Acme store with the intention of using them in baked goods or as fried eggs for my breakfast. Due to life being the crazy whirlwind it can be, they sat. And sat. And sat. Before I realized it, they had been in there for three weeks and I hadn't used a single one. I wasn't worried about them spoiling as the "Sell By" date hadn't come and gone. But I knew that they weren't the freshest of eggs anymore. Many a person has been told that you should use "older" eggs to make hard-boiled eggs because as the eggs age, the membrane inside the shell that makes them hard to peel when fresh slowly degrades.

With great anticipation, I placed the eggs in my pan, filled it with cold water until it covered the eggs by about an inch, turned the burner on high and waited. After about four or five minutes, the water finally came to a boil, I slapped on the lid, and pulled the pot off of the hot burner and started my timer for exactly eleven minutes. After eleven minutes, I pulled the lid off and moved the pot over to my sink where I proceeded to run cold water into the pot and swirled the eggs to cool them off more quickly for about five minutes. What happened next was not pretty.

Occasionally I'll come across an egg whose peel just doesn't want to cooperate. And that usually happened with fresher eggs. But these were at LEAST three week old eggs! Surely the first one, stubbornly refusing to peel nicely wasn't indicative of the whole lot, was it? You'd better believe it was! Every. Single. Egg. Was. Crap.

Frustrated, I posted a message onto my own personal Facebook account. Some thirty-seven responses later, I had all manor of suggestions of "tricks" that I should have done in order to ensure egg peeling success. I was about to call "Shenanigans!" on the whole lot of my friends (who were, after all, just trying to be helpful) when it dawned on me that I ought to take the core of their suggestions and try them out for myself. So that is exactly what I've decided to do. Starting with this post and for the next three Fridays, I will be posting the results of a semi-humorous scientific experiment to see what exactly is the best way to get an egg out of its shell after hard-boiling it.

To that end, on Wednesday, June 1st, I returned to the same Acme store from which I had bought my previous dozen and bought four dozen eggs, all of the same brand, same "Sell By" date, one for each week of the experiment:

Four Dozen Starting Eggs
Each dozen will yield three test cases and a control. The control will be to prepare the eggs in exactly the same manner in which I am doing now. The three test cases will be to use baking soda in the water when I am cooking the eggs, to prick the end of the egg before cooking it in salted water, and to use a commercial egg cooker and follow the manufacturer's instructions.

For the non-commercial cooking, I will be using the same amount of water in the exact same pan on the exact same burner each time:

Some of the Test Equipment
For the commercial egg steamer, I have consulted with one of my friends who absolutely swears by hers, Darlene, and picked up a similar model from Bed, Bath & Beyond, the Cuisinart Egg Cooker. Like Alton Brown, I am a firm believer in very few unitaskers in my kitchen. However, she and a number of others convinced me with their platitudes for these little devices that I needed to include one in the testing. Here is the egg cooker that I will be using for this experiment:

Cuisinart Egg Cooker
Each week, I will rate each batch on a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being the absolute worst and 10 being the absolute best. The criteria I will use to judge will be:

* Ease of peeling
* Outer appearance of hard-boiled egg
* Taste
* Texture

In judging taste, I am not looking for flavor of the egg so much as any flavor that was imparted by the cooking method (for instance, by the addition of baking soda to the water).

So, Part I will be cooking the eggs 24 hours after purchase; essentially as fresh as they can be. Ready for the results? Here we go!

Control Group

6 cups of cold tap water
Time to come to boil: 12 minutes, 30 seconds
Time boiling: 1 min
Time sitting off heat: 11 minutes
Time cooled under cold water: 3 minutes

Control group ratings:
* Ease of peeling: 7
* Outer appearance: 8
* Texture: 9
* Taste: 10

Control Egg Results

Commercial Egg Cooker

Time cooled under cold water: 3 minutes

Commercial Egg Cooker ratings:
* Ease of peeling: 9
* Outer appearance: 10
* Texture: 10
* Taste: 9

I noticed a slight smell of sulfur while peeling the eggs. That being said, this was the first batch I ever cooked in this device and the less than perfect results could entirely be me having not optimized using the device. Next time I will use slightly less water (which is what controls how long the eggs cook). I think an adjustment on my part next week will produce even better results. I did notice a slightly similar taste in the eggs.

Egg Cooker Egg Results

Baking Soda In The Water

6 cups of cold tap water
1 teaspoon Arm & Hammer baking soda (sodium bicarbonate)
Time to come to boil: 12 minutes, 25 seconds
Time boiling: 1 min
Time sitting off heat: 11 minutes
Time cooled under cold water: 3 minutes

Baking Soda In The Water group ratings:
* Ease of peeling: 10
* Outer appearance: 10
* Texture: 10
* Taste: 10

Baking Soda Egg Results

Salt In The Water and Egg Pricked

6 cups of cold tap water
2 tablespoons kosher salt (sodium chloride)
Time to come to boil: 12 minutes, 35 seconds
Time boiling: 1 min
Time sitting off heat: 11 minutes
Time cooled under cold water: 3 minutes

Salt In The Water and Egg Pricked group ratings:
* Ease of peeling: 9
* Outer appearance: 6
* Texture: 10
* Taste: 10

Salt In The Water and Pricked Egg Results
So, overall, this week's winner for peeling and appearance, by just a hair over the commercial egg cooker, was the addition of baking soda to the cooking water. For taste and texture, it was essentially perfect across the board. I'll be interested to see if a week's worth of aging in my refrigerator changes the ratings significantly. Come back next Friday for the next installment!


Becky said...

Sounds like you had quite a time with your eggs, son! Here is how I hard boil eggs: Use a pan where the eggs are not crowded. Place the eggs in the pan and cover with cold water. Add a little white vinegar. Bring the eggs to a boil, then simmer for 12 minutes.

The majority of my eggs are very easy to peal as long as they are still warm when I peel them. Of course, there is an occasional egg that is stubborn to pill so I simply eat it after pealing it!

Amy in Ohio said...

But what exactly is the "egg prick"?

Tino said...

@Amy in Ohio: You could use any sharp pin, like the kind you push into a corkboard to hang papers. What you wouldn't want to use is the tynes of a fork ... they'd be too big.

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