Ask Chef Emily: Boiling Eggs

Dear Chef Emily, What’s the best way to boil eggs? – Jim, West Hempstead

If the trunk of a tree is the question, there may not be enough branches to cover every permutation of egg boiling. Moreover, if I had a dollar for every time this came up at cocktail parties or waiting lines when someone hears that I answer cooking questions professionally, well, I’d be rich.

Like lasagna or filing taxes everyone thinks their way is the way, and so I set out to answer this question to give you my way, and what I landed on was far more eye-opening, so thank you for prompting me to finally do my own version of how-long-to-cook-hard-boiled-eggs test.

First, my way of boiling eggs:

  1. Put a room temperature* egg (or several) into a pot large enough to hold them all.
  2. Cover with cold tap water by at least one inch.
  3. Set the heat to high and bring to a full, rolling boil.
  4. Turn off the heat and let stand 9 minutes.
  5. Carefully dump off the water, vigorously rattle the eggs around in the now empty pot to lightly crack them, and refill with cold tap water. Throw in some ice cubes if you have some to spare.
  6. Let stand 20 minutes.

I don’t add salt, any vinegar or baking soda. Sometimes I skimp on the water, omit the ice, let them stand in cold water half the time (or none at all if I’m really hungry), all of this adjusting still results in delicious HB eggs, as we call them in our house.

What I didn’t account for is just how forgiving this process is. It wasn’t luck that meant my adjustments worked out just fine, but the method itself. Behold the picture proof. I started with 15 eggs in cold water, followed my own instructions but took them out of the standing hot water at one minute intervals, from one minute all the way up to 15, and you know what happened?

The eggs are indistinguishable from one another! I stood in my kitchen visualizing graphs of the rise and fall of heat, questioning room temperature versus fridge temp as starting points, the fact that these were commercially/industrially produced, looking for some indicator of what had just happened.

I was certain that a one minute egg would be rare and runny and vastly different from its 15 minute sibling and I was… completely wrong.

If there is any nuance to describe it, the egg yolks do start to take on a green hue at about 5 minutes, but none, not even at 15 minutes, had the dark ring often found in institutional cooking. Additionally, they became slightly easier to peel after the same 5 minute mark, but not dramatically so. (The peeling of hard boiled eggs is for another column entirely.) As for “tough” whites, none to be found here. Equally smooth to the tooth from one through 15.

So, go forth knowing that the humble egg is far more forgiving than we give it credit for and that my way is indeed, the way.

Now, can I offer you some egg salad?

*Author’s Note: After more rigorous testing, I’ve discovered that to be truly foolproof, start with the eggs at room temperature, which gives them an approximately 30 degree head start over fridge eggs.