Eating eggs

photos by Katherine Larson

by Katherine Larson

The image of a hard-cooked egg seems perfect, a pearly glistening ovoid encasing a spheroidal golden ball of yolk. Too often, though, the yolk is dry and chalky, with a greenish tinge. The pearly ovoid is rubbery and pockmarked with the evidence of frustrated attempts to pick off stubborn bits of shell. And, while eggs are nutritionally excellent, the eating can be profoundly unsatisfying. Boring. Dull.

Yet it’s April, the month in which some celebrate Easter and others celebrate some version of the mysteries of spring with which humans have for millennia greeted the wonders of thawing, greening, growing. Most of these celebrations incorporate eggs as symbols of these mysteries. So, in April, many of us find ourselves with a surplus of hard-cooked eggs and a dearth of ideas for their consumption.

The basic blandness of a hard-cooked egg cries out for something, anything, to pep it up. Even a sprinkle of salt and pepper imparts some much-needed zing. Other ideas unfold below. But first, the task of improving a hard-cooked egg begins at the very beginning.

With the hen, of course. The tastiest egg was laid by the happiest, healthiest, most naturally-raised hen available to you. Maybe she’s in your own backyard, or maybe she’s pecking about in your local farmer’s coop—your neighboring farmer, or the ones who sell at your local farmers market. If you can avoid a factory egg, do so. The payoff in terms of health (both the hen’s and yours), flavor, nutrition, and overall goodness is enormous.

But the very best egg is also the freshest, and the truth is that the very freshest egg does not hard-cook well. Or, rather, it hard-cooks just fine, but it’s almost impossible to peel, and what good does the egg do you if it’s armored behind an impenetrably adhesive shell?

The answer is to wait a while before you cook it. An egg that is cooked just 10 days after it was laid remains delightfully fresh, but peels much more easily.

(If you’re buying factory eggs in the grocery store, this discussion of freshness is unnecessary. Factory eggs can be packed for sale up to 27 days after they are laid, and weeks more can pass between the packing date and the date of consumption. They won’t go bad—eggs do last a long time—but you certainly don’t have to worry about the freshness problem. Taste, on the other hand…)

With eggs in hand, it’s time to think about cooking them.

Notice that I have been using the term “hard-cooked,” not “hard-boiled.” The greenish tinge that can afflict egg yolks comes from sulphur, a malodorous sign that the eggs were subjected to ruthless boiling. Eggs are tender objects, and prefer a gentler treatment.

So put the eggs in a pot, cover them with room-temperature water, and bring that water just barely to a boil. Then—and this is crucial—cover the pot and immediately turn the stove off; if your stove is electric, take the pot off the hot burner. Set the kitchen timer to 15 minutes.

As soon as the timer dings, whip the pot off the stove and into the kitchen sink. Dump out the hot water and put the cold water tap on, full blast, into the pot with the eggs. Let it run long enough so that the pot itself, as well as the eggs, are cool to the touch. Add some ice for good measure, and let everything sit for another 15 minutes.

If you are using fresh farm eggs, you’ll need to have decided whether you care more about their appearance before shelling (perhaps dyed and used as a table decoration) or after (perhaps presented on a plate to be eaten).

If you care more about easy shelling than about a pretty Easter centerpiece, then when you add ice take a moment to lightly crack each egg several times against the pot, keeping it submerged. The cold water seeping in during the 15-minute rest will help release the egg from its shell when the time comes to eat it.

If your concern is for appearance, don’t crack them, but do prepare for some finicky shelling efforts. Either way, when you eventually get to the stage of shelling your eggs, the process will go better underwater.

When the 15 minutes are up, remove your eggs from their cold bath. They are ready for dying if desired, or for immediate use, or for later use—refrigerated in the meantime.

There is really no need to refrigerate eggs so long as the protective covering that hens give them remains intact. In some countries, including much of Europe, egg farmers are forbidden to wash their eggs in order to preserve that coating. In other countries, egg farmers who have more than 3,000 hens are required to wash their eggs, which destroys that coating. The United States is one of the latter group, and so American eggs must be refrigerated.

And when you are ready to eat them?

In your first flush of enthusiasm, when the idea of all this eggy wonder is at its most mouth-watering, it’s hard to beat a deviled egg. In fact, the quantity of deviled eggs that otherwise-sober adults can consume is as astonishing as the eggs themselves are tasty.

I’m sure you have your own preferences. Here, I’ll share mine with you, knowing full well that yours may differ. There is, however, one universal maxim: please, please, please don’t overdo the mayonnaise.

Your goal is a nicely-textured yolk paste; you do not want yolk glop.

So peel and halve your eggs, tip the yolks into a bowl that will comfortably accommodate your potato masher, and add everything but the mayonnaise. In my house, I’ll use some Dijon mustard, a couple of drops of Worcestershire sauce, several drops of hot sauce, a pinch of curry powder, a squirt of anchovy paste, and a big grind of black pepper. In your house, it might be some of those things and some goodies I haven’t thought of—let me know! If you don’t use the anchovy paste, do use salt.

Then add what looks like way too little mayonnaise and give everything a good mash. If it’s still too dry, add a smidgen more, and then another smidgen, mashing between each addition. If too much mayonnaise creeps in, you won’t be able to remove it; the only remedy for glop is to cut up another few eggs so their yolks can thicken the mix.

Once the texture satisfies you, fill the halved whites. A pastry bag will provide fancy swirls (and demand a slightly gooier paste), but there’s nothing wrong with using a couple of teaspoons. I like to sprinkle a few grains of my favorite spice rub on top, for fun and flavor.

After the first orgy of deviled eggs, your family’s enthusiasm for hard-cooked eggs might wane a bit. Wait a few days before offering a pleasant breakfast or lunch of eggs and mushrooms in a creamy sauce on toast.

Sauté a lot of sliced mushrooms in butter, adding a bit of minced garlic at the end if your fancy takes you that way. Then sprinkle a tablespoon of flour over the vegetables, stir it in and cook for a minute, and whisk in about a cup of that good home-made chicken broth that you keep in your freezer for uses like this. When the sauce has thickened nicely, fold in some hard-cooked eggs, coarsely chopped, and heat them through.

Over toast, with a goodly grind of black pepper over top, this concoction provides warmth and comfort as well as good eating.

Egg appetites may continue to flag, and so the next appearance on the dinner table should highlight other flavors.

The “mimosa” technique is a favorite even of people who don’t love eggs by themselves. Here, you prepare a robust and tasty vegetable—hot cauliflower or broccoli, for example, or cold roasted beets in a salad with a lively vinaigrette—and then shower it with hard-cooked egg that has been pushed through a strainer with the back of a spoon.

The result resembles the delicate, airy blossoms of the mimosa tree, a welcome harbinger of spring.

And then, finally, there are those last lonesome eggs staring out at you each time you peek in the fridge, piquing your conscience but not your appetite. It’s time for kedgeree.

“Kedgeree” is actually a portmanteau word encompassing a variety of ways of combining rice, hard-cooked eggs and smoked fish. Its roots are in the Raj—the British occupation of India: neither properly Indian nor properly British, kedgeree represents a cultural mingling. It’s also a delicious way of using up eggs when you reach the point where you want their nutrition but are no longer interested in their flavor.

As with deviled eggs, kedgerees allow for a lot of individuation. In my house, we start by gently cooking some curry powder (a tablespoon or two) and some dried crushed red pepper flakes in a large pot. Butter works well; so does canola oil; so do bacon drippings.

Once the spices are nicely aromatic, stir in a chopped onion and a couple of cloves’ worth of chopped garlic and let them wilt for a minute or two. Then stir in a cup of rice and let it, too, cook for a minute.

Next comes the cooking liquid. Strain the juice from a 15-ounce can of chopped tomatoes into your measuring cup, and then add enough water to total two cups of liquid. Stir those tomatoes into the mix, too. A diced red or green bell pepper is a useful addition, either now (if you’re using white rice) or later (if you choose brown).

The type of rice chosen will also govern when you add your final ingredients: chopped eggs, chopped smoked fish (I love lake trout here), and another clove’s worth of minced garlic. You don’t want to cook them into tastelessness, and the 45-50 minutes that brown rice demands will do just that. So, if you’re using brown rice, wait till the last quarter of an hour before folding these last items in. If you choose white rice, which cooks in just 20 minutes, it’s fine to add everything at once.

Either way, bring your potful of goodies to a boil, cover it, and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook until done, according to your rice’s demands.

This one-pot meal is immensely satisfying on a chilly night, especially if eaten by the fire with a good dollop of Major Grey chutney (another product of the Raj) and a sprinkle of parsley or cilantro.

And now your seemingly endless stash of eggs has been well and truly appreciated, and you are free to put the whole idea of hard-cooking them out of your mind until next spring—or, maybe, just until your next summer picnic.

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