Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Hard and Soft-Boiled Eggs

Only a few egg recipes are included in the Guardian Service Tested Recipes cookbook: Scrambled Eggs, Guardian Omelet (I'll take a look at cooking omelets in the Guardian Service Duplex Utility pan in a future blog post), and a Tomato Flower Salad that calls for hard-boiled eggs, but no guidance on cooking hard or soft-boiled eggs in aluminum cookware. With Easter approaching it's the perfect time to offer some advice on the subject.

There's nothing remarkable about boiling an egg, but after years of cooking them, it amazes me when I still screw them up. Use too much heat or leave them to cook for too long and the yolks can green and the whites turn rubbery. As food nutritionist and Guardian Service advocate of the day Adelle Davis writes, "The texture of either a hard-cooked or a soft-cooked egg depends on the initial temperature of the water and the eggs, the number of eggs cooked, the amount of water used, the degree to which the utensil holds heat, the temperature to which the water is heated, and the length of time the eggs are left in it. If that is easy, I give up... The only way perfection can be obtained is to measure the water and to use a stop watch and a thermometer, none of which i expect a housewife to do."

I don't expect a housewife—nor any of us—to run his or her kitchen like a laboratory, but a few steps will help you get more consistent results: soft, mealy yolks and firm yet tender egg whites). And Guardian Service cookware is renowned for evenly retaining and distributing heat, which takes some guesswork out of the equation.
  1. Bring approximately 1 quart of water and 1 tsp vinegar (or lemon juice) to boil in the Guardian Service Dome Cooker (1.5 or 2 qt) or the Guardian Service Casserole Unit.
  2. Use room temperature eggs; slip carefully into water: 4 to 8 eggs*.
  3. Cover unit; simmer for five seconds and remove from heat. Let stand 8 minutes for soft-cooked eggs, 10 to 15 for hard-cooked eggs.
  4. Gently remove eggs and transfer to a bowl of ice water to arrest cooking.
*Eggs cold from the fridge? Alternately, you can begin with cold eggs in cold water, but you're less likely to get consistent results since there are more variables involved with the cooking time depending on everything from the outdoor temperature to that of your tap water. A trick which will also help to prevent cold eggs from cracking is to use a pushpin to create a small airhole in the larger end of the egg: "Its metal pinpoint is short enough not to rupture the membrane that separates the trapped air from the albumen but is thick enough to make a convenient hole for the air to escape through as it expands while being heated in the simmering water," writes Howard Hillman in Kitchen Science (Houghton Mifflin).

Pictured below: hard-boiled eggs on toast with sauteed tomato, onion and caper, accompanied by Niman Ranch bacon.

Some additional tips:

1) When cooking eggs in aluminum cookware, add 1 tsp of vinegar or lemon juice or 1/4 tsp cream of tartar to help prevent staining (caused by the hydrogen sulphide developed by heating the eggs). This aluminum oxide staining is harmless and can be removed by either cooking foods with high acid contents such as tomatoes, apples, lemon or rhubarb, or by boiling 2 tbsp of vinegar or 1 to 2 tsp of cream of tartar per quart of water, then polishing with soap-filled steel wool.

2) Never HEAT eggs, warm them. Writes Adelle Davis in the nutrition classic Let's Cook It Right, "If you submit eggs or cheese to high temperatures, the protein quickly becomes tough and some of its health-promoting value is destroyed. Cook booth cheese and eggs gently with low heat at all times."

3) Peeling a pain? Again, starting with simmering water and room temperature eggs helps when it comes to removing the shell, since the egg's albumen, or white membrane, retracts when the egg is carefully ladled into the simmering water. Older eggs (a week or more) will shell more easily, since their whites have already begun to shrink.

4) Perhaps most important of all: the source of the eggs themselves. If you haven't explored the difference in flavor and texture between a factory farmed egg and one from a pasture-raised hen, I invite you to do so. Pasture-raised hens have access to a natural diet of grasses, grubs and bugs; it was food for our grandmothers, it's food for you and me. And I'm less concerned with the cholesterol from a real food source than by what frankenfood dangers lurk in egg substitutes... besides, their both cholesterol and flavor FREE.

If you don't have your own backyard chicken coop (I did growing up and I long for the day I do again), look for eggs at farmers' markets or pasture-fed sources.

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