How difficult can it be to boil an egg? The answer is not difficult at all if you don’t care what the egg looks like when it’s peeled. If, however, this matters to you, then the answer is not so straightforward. The reason is that peeling the eggs without the shells sticking and gouging the whites is often problematic.
Through the years, I’ve tried a lot of different tricks in my quest of the Perfect Hard Boiled Eggs. For example, I’ve tried using “old” eggs, putting salt or vinegar in the water, trying to peel the eggs as soon as they come out of the water, starting with room temperature eggs, plunging boiled eggs in ice water, etc. Nothing seemed to consistently work until I tried one of the recommendations from Serious Eats.
In a nutshell the one thing that works all the time for me is steaming the eggs as opposed to boiling them.
As an aside, years ago I read somewhere that the three-digit code stamped on the egg carton along with the use-by date indicates the day of the year that the eggs were packed. The three-digit code starts with 001 for January 1, and ends with 365 for December 31. The code on the eggs that I used was 331, meaning that eggs were packed on November 27.
The Secret to Producing Perfect Hard Boiled Eggs Every Time – Steaming:
I actually discovered the secret of steaming the eggs as opposed to cooking them in boiling water several years ago when I was trying the make the Master Taste Tester the perfect soft cooked egg. With eggs straight from the refrigerator, the steaming did several things. First, the temperature of the water didn’t plunge as occurs when one puts cold eggs in boiling water. Second, steam is hotter than boiling water, and adds more heat to the eggs as they are cooking. Third, it doesn’t matter whether I’m cooking one egg or many. Finally, the steam evenly cooks the eggs on all sides. The consistent result was a perfect soft cooked egg.
If steaming would work on a soft cooked egg, then logic would suggest that it should work equally well on a hard-cooked egg. Guess what? It does! I put large eggs straight from the refrigerator in a steamer basket set in a pan of water. The water was below the level of the steamer basket. Once, I brought the water to a boil over medium heat, I put the lid on the pan, and steamed the eggs for 14 minutes.
Plunging in Ice Water:
The Serious Eats post adds the step of plunging the steamed eggs in ice water for 15 minutes. When I did this, the eggs were perfect. However, Mr. Wizard (a.k.a. The Master Taste Tester) asked whether plunging the eggs in ice water really did anything, or was it the steaming the was key? It was actually a good question since plunging boiled eggs in ice water was often ineffective in producing an easy peel.
After a science lesson from Mr. Wizard in latent heat, I steamed several more eggs for 14 minutes. This time, I rinsed them in cold water after the 14 minutes. While one egg was still hot, I peeled it, and the peel came off perfectly! I let another of the eggs come to room temperature before attempting to peel it. Guess what? It still peeled perfectly.
Mr. Wizard was right – it’s the steaming of the eggs and the impact of latent heat on the eggs that produces the Perfect Hard Boiled Eggs Every Time. Yum!