Ah, a perfectly cooked hard-boiled egg – with a tender yolk cooked just until it’s done all the way through, but not until that nasty grayish-green ring appears around it. And if you’re lucky – or you read the trick at the end – the yolk is nicely centered, which makes sliced eggs sturdier and prettier and deviled eggs so much easier to fill. It must not be easy, or so much wouldn’t have been written about the subject.
In The Way to Cook, Julia Child outlined a method she learned from the Georgia Egg Board, which she claimed produces the perfect hard-cooked egg, both in the cooking and in the peeling. However, one of her long-time assistants wrote that whenever Julia wanted “perfect HB eggs,” everyone in the kitchen hoped someone else would get the job because it was so tedious! The wider end of the eggs must be pricked ¼ inch deep; then the eggs are covered with just so much water depending on how many are being cooked. They are brought to a boil, immediately removed from the heat, covered, and left to sit for exactly seventeen minutes. Then the eggs are chilled in a bowl of ice water for exactly two minutes, while the water is brought back to a boil.
Then you return the eggs, six at a time, to the boiling water for ten seconds, and finally put them back in the bowl of ice water and crack gently in several places. If you have time, she advised, leave them chilling in the ice water for 15-20 more minutes before peeling. Are you tired yet?
There is a simple way to hard-cook an egg in the shell. First, though, let’s stop calling them “hard-boiled” eggs. “Hard-cooked” is a more accurate term. The word “boiled” leads people to believe that you can mistreat an egg without consequences. Not so. That ring around the yolk is caused by the egg being cooked at too high a heat or for too long. So remember to cook your eggs gently.
Very fresh eggs are difficult to peel, so if you get your eggs from a farm, ask how old they are. With store-bought eggs, this is rarely a concern. You want eggs that are at least a week old. Besides the age of the eggs, time, temperature, and the right shape and size pot are the variables to be considered.
The pot needs to be large enough to hold the number of eggs you want to cook, but small enough that they won’t roll around freely and possibly crack against one another. It also needs to be tall enough to cover the eggs with water by at least one inch. So if you’re only cooking four eggs, a one-quart saucepan is about right. For a dozen eggs, you probably need a four-quart pan.
Begin with room temperature eggs to keep them from cracking. Either remove them from the refrigerator 30 minutes before you begin, or put them into hot tap water for about five minutes to warm up. Put the eggs in the pot you’ve chosen, cover with water by about one inch, and put the pot on medium-high heat. Bring the water to a rolling boil, then immediately remove the pot from the burner, cover, and set aside.
Let standard large eggs sit for 15 minutes. For medium eggs, 9 minutes should be adequate; for extra large, 15 minutes; and for jumbo eggs, 19-20 minutes. At the end of the cooking time, drain the eggs, and either run cold water over them for several minutes or plunge them into ice water. The rule of thumb is equal amounts of time in cold water as in hot. Allow to cool completely before peeling, or storing in the refrigerator.
Oh, and the little trick for centered yolks? Put the carton of eggs on its side in the refrigerator the night before. It’s not 100% fool-proof, but it works most of the time!