I thought I'd tackle one of the simplest, yet most vexing everyday challenges of the home kitchen: perfectly boiling an egg.
Nearly every basic cookbook offers conflicting techniques on how it should be done—start the egg in cold water, or gently lower it into boiling water; add vinegar to the water to lower its pH, or add baking soda to the water to raise it; cover the pot, don't cover the pot; use old eggs, or use new eggs, and on and on—but very few offer evidence as to why any one of these techniques should work any better than your average old wives' tale. Apparently, boiling is not...ahem...an eggs-act science.
What Factors Matter When Boiling Eggs?
Age of the Eggs - "Old eggs are for boiling, fresh eggs are for frying," is what my mother told me. Well, it's true...to a degree. As anyone who's had fresh-from the hen eggs will tell you, they do fry up beautifully, giving you tall, tall yolks, and tight whites, and trying to peel a very freshly laid boiled egg is difficult—the inner membrane of the shell has a tendency to stick to the white, giving the peeled egg a pockmarked appearance. But these differences disappear within a few days after the egg has been laid. Since eggs in the supermarket can spend up to 30 days before they even hit the shelf, followed by a further 30 days before they hit their expiration date, the point is pretty much moot. So long as you don't keep your own chickens, you can boil eggs with impunity.
Perfect Hard Boiled Eggs
Hard boiled eggs are a little complicated. The goal is to have both your white and your yolk at the point where they are opaque, but not rubbery. I was taught to place the eggs in cold water, bring them to a simmer, shut off the heat, and wait for a prescribed period of time (about ten minutes).
The best part about using this method is that even if you accidentally forget about your egg and leave it sitting in the water, there is no chance that it will overcook, because by the time the egg is done (about ten minutes), the water temperature has dropped far enough that the egg will stop cooking.. But for most practical purposes, this will deliver perfect hard boiled eggs every time.
Perfect eggs, but the yolk's on me—all this egg boiling has left me fried.
Or you could just use our electric egg cooker . . . .