Until you’ve eaten a couple of hard-boiled eggs tough enough to bounce off the pavement and tinged with grayish green, you might think that boiling an egg is no big deal.
There seem to be a variety of approaches to the perfectly hard-boiled egg, one that isn’t overdone and has none of that greenish aura around its perimeter, one that is cooked through, but still bright yellow and tender. For me, hard-boiled eggs at Easter also have to be colorfully dyed, then hidden, found, and eventually eaten in some delicious way. Like for example, potato, egg, or spinach salad.
There was a time when I paid little attention to hard boiling an egg. Just boil them a while, rinse and carry on. Eventually, I must have eaten a tenderly hard-boiled egg which provided context and a kick in the butt. After that I became a little more careful with my methodology. A little. I looked at the eggs and mentally calculated their size/cooking time, placed them in cold water and slowly brought them to a boil, let them cook for several minutes – for sure I’d also be doing something else while the eggs were boiling and my culinary sixth sense told me when enough time had passed. I took them off the heat and let the eggs steam for a few or many minutes, depending, rinsed with cold water and crossed my fingers. Sometimes I got lucky, sometimes not. Actually, my process wasn’t bad, but the cavalier sixth-sense timing, not so good.
Eventually, I looked around for something a little more solid in the way of specific directions and it was really kind of funny. Of the six recipes I checked each one was different and each proclaimed superiority over other methods. Alton Brown suggests steaming them in an actual steamer for 12 minutes, another method suggests that you bring them to a boil for exactly 1 minute, remove from the heat and let steam for exactly 17 minutes; another said to boil eggs for exactly 2 minutes, steam for exactly 12 minutes; boil eggs for 3 minutes, steam for exactly 8. And so on. Words like exactly, repeated often enough, will bring self-importance to almost anything. The truth is, there was a collective hard-boiled message, which is to start eggs in cold water, boil them only briefly, then steam them between 8 and 17 minutes. As with many things in life, it’s all about timing.
And they all agreed that the plunge into ice water when finished was important, to stop cooking and facilitate easier peeling. Alice Waters was the lone advocate for gently placing room temperature eggs into barely simmering water for exactly 9 minutes before proceeding to the ice water bath. Definitely worth trying.
After eggs are cooked and cooled, decorate them in whatever ways you like and then go for color. The eggs of my childhood and then my daughter’s were decorated in the simplest way with waxy crayon and then dyed. I’ve done string around the egg, leaves and a few other fancy embellishments, but truthfully, just a waxy crayon does it for me, and whatever ‘dye’ I can find in the kitchen cupboard. Onion skins, beets if I have them, turmeric and food coloring. That’s about it.
‘Recipe’ for Hard Boiling an Egg
I found my own happy medium, guided by others’ good advice. Start with eggs in cool water, bring them to a soft boil and cook small – medium eggs for 1 1/2 minutes, large/extra large 2 – 3 minutes, turn heat off, put a lid on the pan, set a timer and let them steam for 6 – 7 minutes depending on size of eggs. Drain and submerge eggs in ice water. Results are delicious, easy to peel hard-boiled eggs. This approach, tweaked here and there as needed, should make hard boiling an egg almost as easy as boiling water – but just wait, someone will find a way to make that complicated too.
Speaking of complicated, the definition of hard-boiled varies; the yolk can be barely set, or firm, so adjust timing one way or the other according to preference in that regard. A 1 -minute boil and a 9-minute steam might be about right for a softer hard-boiled egg, depending on its size. So maybe it is rocket science after all. Finding your way to perfectly hard boiled requires a certain touch.
Local farmers get it that we prefer their fresh eggs if we can get them. It’s much easier to get a dozen or two at local Farmer’s Markets than it was just a couple of years ago. So start there if you can. The thing is to take this misunderstood culinary task a little more seriously. Watch the clock and proceed with an exact number of minutes in mind. The difference between a nicely or badly cooked egg – in whatever manner -is the difference between sublime and possibly inedible. So it’s worth the attention. Easter eggs are pretty to look at, but eventually they get eaten. Potato salad is one way to go, and the one I grew up with, my aunties’ version, is, of course, my favorite.
Spinach Salad Recipe
Not exactly a recipe, but an outline for making spinach salad after dyed eggs have had their Easter fling. We have spinach starts in the garden from Rents Due Ranch, but they’re a few weeks away from harvest (plus, the potato bugs are having a spinach party!). In the meantime, Farmer’s Markets have young, tender spinach – or arugula – in their prime and perfect for salad. Classic spinach salad has hard-boiled egg, bacon, thinly sliced red onion, mushrooms, Parmesan cheese, and lots of spinach. I always thought slivered almonds were part of the deal, but so far I haven’t found any reference to them so maybe I’m making that up. With a nice dressing and a piece of bread, for some of us this is a meal. Or, add a bowl of soup.
Soak thinly sliced red onion in dressing for a few minutes to soften their bite.
I made dressing with Rockridge Orchards’ Apple Cider Vinegar. Perfecto with this salad. 2:1 (or 3:1) olive oil & cider vinegar/ 1 – 2 t finely chopped shallot/ 1/2 – 1 t mustard/ optional: 1/2 t honey, or to taste. Shake it vigorously and pour over salad.
The fuss about the perfectly hard-boiled egg might seem a little mundane, like a lesson on boiling water or trimming your fingernails. Some couldn’t care less and that’s probably sensible, for others it’s a big load off – no more middle-of-the-night worries about hard boiling eggs. Hail spring.