Monday, January 4, 2010

The Mystery of the Hardboiled Egg

I love mysteries. I like watching the clues unfold onscreen in classics like “Murder She Wrote” or in modern day dramas like “Law & Order.” I also love reading mystery novels. One of the first book series I ever got into was Nancy DrewMystery Stories.Those dreamy 1940s-era detective stories with the young strawberry-blond sleuth in her sweet pastel pantsuit outfits, attending dinner dances with the handsome Ned Nickerson, while simultaneously duping the bad guy always kept me interested. Even in spite of the fact the reading level was for that of a third-grader. To this day, whenever I go home to my parents’ place and their collection of old-school Nancy Drew novels, I love to flip through titles like The Mystery at Lilac Inn or The Hidden Staircase for a quick, easy read. Sometimes you just need something simple and entertaining.

I experienced my own mystery of sorts the other day in the kitchen, in a tale I like to refer to as The Mystery of the Hardboiled Egg. The mystery began on Christmas morning. I’d received several cooking reference guides, and I’d curled up to read one in front of the tree. CookWise, by Shirley Corriher, unravels the mysteries of cooking and baking with scientific explanations and straightforward recipes to explain the points detailed in its well-written chapters. There is an entire chapter devoted to eggs, and an entire section dedicated to hardboiled eggs, though Shirley refers to them as “hardcooked” since the eggs aren’t actually boiled, but cooked in really hot water. Shirley says eggs gently cooked this way are more tender and moist than eggs that are boiled. She gives all the science behind this phenomenon, and I became intrigued with this first clue. So I got to wondering about hardboiled/cooked eggs. In recent web wanderings, I stumbled upon another expert who had a “best recipe” for boiled eggs: none other than Ms. Martha Stewart herself. I grew up eating hardboiled eggs that were boiled for 10 to 15 minutes then chilled and liked them just fine. Could there be a better way? I decided to find out. And so, The Mystery of the Hardboiled Egg began.

I decided to try three different methods for hardboiled/cooked eggs using Shirley Corriher’s recipe, Martha Stewart’s, and the one I grew up on, and then do a side-by-side tasting. I used similarly shaped pans, the same brand/age of eggs and Nashville tap water. I also peeled and photographed the eggs right after chilling them. Then the mystery began to unravel…

Shirley Corriher, from CookWise:
For tender, moist hardcooked eggs, Shirley suggests two different methods: a cold- and boiling-water start. I chose the cold-water start as it’s a speedier option, and let’s face it — would I actually go to a lot of trouble to hardboil eggs when I’ve been enjoying them cooked by a very simple method for my entire life? I don’t think so.

-Place eggs in a single layer in a heavy saucepan and cover with 1 1/2 inches of cold water
-Partially cover the pot and bring to a full rolling boil
-Turn the heat down to low, cover completely, and leave on heat for 30 seconds
-Remove from heat and let eggs stand in hot water for 15 minutes
-Let eggs cool in bowl of ice water for two minutes*

*Shirley suggests cooling the eggs under cold running water for five minutes. But since we’re in the middle of an environmental crisis and all, I decided to conserve.

Martha Stewart’s Boiled Egg 101:

-Place eggs in a single layer in a heavy saucepan and cover with 1 inch of cold water
-Bring water to a full rolling boil
-Immediately turn off heat and cover and let eggs stand in hot water for 11 minutes
-Let eggs cool in a bowl of ice water for two minutes

This is the Annakate version.

-Bring a heavy saucepan of water to a full rolling boil
-Add eggs in a single layer
-Let eggs cook in water for 12 minutes
-Remove from water and cool in a bowl of ice water for two minutes

As you may be able to tell from the pictures (they didn’t look as dark onscreen), the Martha Stewart eggs were my favorites. The whites were a little softer than the ones cooked my way. My favorite part about these eggs was the soft, smooth yellow yolk. It wasn’t dry or crumbly at all, and really melted in your mouth. The whites of the Shirley eggs were also more tender than my version, but the yolks were a little drier than the Martha version. The eggs I boiled for 12 minutes were fine enough, just as I remembered them. The whites may have been a little more rubbery than the other two, but not significantly. The yolks also weren’t quite cooked all the way.

In the end, The Mystery of the Hardboiled Egg taught me that there actually is more than one way to skin a cat, er boil an egg. I really did like the smooth, velvety Martha Stewart eggs better even if it wasn’t a significant different. In my culinary adventures I’ve learned that if you can make something a little better with minimal effort, why not? The process for the Martha eggs wasn’t much different than what I knew from childhood: As noted above, just place the eggs in a pan, cover with cold water, bring to a boil, then cover and remove from heat and let sit for 11 minutes. Not too bad. I’ll make my hardboiled eggs like this from now on.

I don’t think Nancy Drew could have done better herself at solving this mystery. Case closed.


6 Responses to “The Mystery of the Hardboiled Egg”

  1. 1

    DJ B — January 10, 2010 @ 10:05 am

    Here's the real mystery: Why anyone would ruin a perfectly good egg by hard-boiling it. There's a reason they called them Deviled Eggs, you know, and that's because they were invented by Satan!

    Not that I have any strong feelings on the matter. 🙂

  2. 2

    Audrey Auld — January 19, 2010 @ 6:11 pm

    Favorite Australian boiled-egg meal: Boiled eggs with soft yolks in eggcups, eaten with a hot cup of tea and toast with a thin spread of Vegemite and butter. Salt sprinkled on each bite of the egg. Aussie comfort food!

  3. 3

    Audrey Auld — January 21, 2010 @ 10:15 am

    One question, AK – there's talk that the age of the egg makes a difference to how well it peels. Ie, older eggs peel easier as they have dried out a little and created a space between the egg and the shell. Food for thought…!

  4. 4

    Julia Sanders — August 17, 2011 @ 2:53 am

    I have to say, I love your blog and I’ve sent this entry to at least a few people. My boyfriend (fiance) is trying Martha’s version as we speak!

  5. 5

    Annakate — August 17, 2011 @ 8:37 pm

    Awesome Julia! The Martha way is the tenderest way to go. Just make sure you’re using old-ish eggs. Freshly lain ones won’t peel well, per my friend audrey’s comment. Enjoy the eggs, and congrats on the engagement!!

  6. 6

    La Aguacate » The Best Egg Salad — July 15, 2013 @ 7:08 am

    […] is a variation I made this weekend. Check out my post on the best way to hard boil an egg, if you have questions. I compare three popular methods. And I would be remiss if I didn’t […]

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