Eggs often make me think of my mom. Perfectly scrambled eggs and a side of toast was always her go-to meal when my brother, sister or I was a little under the weather. Her deviled eggs are simply scrumptious. And then there was the time I called to see if she could come over and rescue me when I simply could not peel the two dozen eggs I had boiled for my own big batch of deviled eggs. Always up for a challenge, she was at my door in minutes (it helps when your parents live next door). That was before either of us knew a small but important detail…
Fresh eggs from backyard chickens are a treat for sure. Their golden, almost orange yolks sit a little higher than their grocery store counterparts. However, those newly gathered eggs are not your friend when it comes to hard boiling them.
The reason for this comes down to basic science. A fresh egg has a low pH (meaning that it’s acidic), and that causes the proteins in the white to bind to the keratin in the membrane during the cooking process. That, in turn, makes it nearly impossible to remove the shell without pieces of the white sticking to it.
But as the egg ages, carbon dioxide (which is a weak acid) exits the egg through the pores in the shell. As this happens, the pH of the white increases, making it less acidic. When the alkalinity increases, the keratin softens, creating a looser bond between the white and the membrane. Also, the egg white shrinks over time, so the air space between the eggshell and the membrane grows larger. The end result? Easier peeling.
Of course, old or new, the eggs we have are the eggs we use. In the event that your eggs end up with a pock-marked texture on the surface of the egg, you need not worry. They will still taste delicious and, chances are, no one will notice. When using in egg salad, they get chopped up anyway. When making deviled eggs, the less-than-perfect side will be face down and everyone will likely be far more intent on eating them than on inspecting them! 😏
Yield: as many as needed
- Large eggs (preferably at least a week old)
- Place the eggs in a single layer in a saucepan, and cover with 1-2 inches of cold water. (I cover with about 1 inch of water when using 6 eggs or less and 1.5-2 inches when cooking 7-12 eggs.) Bring to a full rolling boil over high heat (uncovered), and then cover the pan and remove from the heat. Allow the covered pan to sit for 10 minutes (set a timer) and then strain the water from the pan and run cold water over the eggs. Alternatively, remove the eggs to an ice bath with a slotted spoon. Chill until the eggs are cool enough to handle, and then peel them. I like to use running water to help with the peeling.
- Small differences will occur based on size of eggs, pot dimensions, and individual stoves, but this method has proved quite reliable for me over the years. Feel free to test one egg a minute or two early until you know the precise number of minutes that will result in the perfect egg for you.
- Guidelines when preparing eggs for another purpose:
- For slightly runny soft-boiled eggs:4 minutes
- For custardy yet firm soft-boiled eggs:6 minutes
- For firm yet still creamy hard-boiled eggs:10 minutes
- For very firm hard-boiled eggs: 15 minutes
- Additional Tips:
- Fresh eggs can be very difficult to peel. Use older eggs when possible.
- If you are having difficulty peeling the eggs, crack the shells as if you were going to peel them and then soak them in water for a little while. This allows water to seep between the egg and the shell and will likely make the job easier.
- Starting with the eggs in cold water and bringing to a boil (as opposed to adding the eggs to already boiling water) will help prevent cracking.
- Some say that adding a teaspoon of vinegar to the water prevents the whites from running out of the egg if it cracks while boiling. Also, I often add a 1/2 teaspoon of salt to the water as this is thought to deter cracking and make peeling easier.
- The harmless green ring that sometimes appears around the yolk is a result of overcooking or cooking at too high a temperature. Keeping the water at a gentle simmer—or following the instructions above—should eliminate this.
Allow the covered pan to sit for 10 minutes (set a timer) and then strain the water from the pan and run cold water over the eggs. Alternatively, remove the eggs to an ice bath with a slotted spoon. Chill until the eggs are cool enough to handle, and then peel them. I like to use running water to help with the peeling.
Have you heard? I recently read that vigorously shaking the cooked, cooled and drained eggs in the pot will allow the shells to effortlessly slip off. Intrigued, I tried this. I stopped shaking when one of my eggs broke in half. Perhaps I interpreted the word “vigorously” too literally!
As an option: Years ago, my mom gave me an egg timer in my Christmas stocking. This handy little gadget takes the guesswork out of boiling eggs and can be found in the kitchen goods section of most large grocery stores as well as in some specialty stores or online for five or six dollars. It goes into the pot with the eggs, absorbs the heat just like the eggs do, and indicates when the eggs are cooked to the soft, medium, or hard boiled stage.