Hard boiling eggs is overrated.
During a recent kitchen upgrade I was without a cooktop, leaving me my oven, crockpot, or microwave for thermal applications. It didn’t work much of a hardship except for eggs. I rely on those chicken gifts, especially when I’ve only myself to feed. Eggs are a nearly perfect food – tasty, nutritious, versatile, cheap, and appropriate any time of day. Living in rural Upstate New York, I have access to superior eggs from happy hens, another benefit.
While I’m not fussy about style, I don’t like eggs cooked in a microwave. Eggs and waves don’t really dance in rhythm. The eggs cook, but not evenly, and inevitably some part of the egg is overdone, a class E felony. I’ve read that eggs can also be prepared in the crockpot, but the recipes usually begin “great for feeding a crowd.”
That leaves the oven as an alternative for hard cooking eggs. I’m loathe to admit that, after a half century of cooking, I’ve never mastered the hard boiled egg. I used to think it was me, but now I’m convinced that the eggs are equally culpable. Eggs are temperamental divas, demanding special handling and loving attention to perform at their best. They prefer gentle heat and require a fair bit of patience. As an added complication, they can be either too fresh or too old.
Hard boiling an egg seems a simple task. Boil water, drop in egg, let cook for 10-12 minutes, cool, peel, enjoy. That straightforward path is, however, rife with pitfalls. Should the eggs be at room temperature before the plunge, or is directly out of the fridge OK? Should they be started in cold water, or added to boiling water, or should the water be brought to a boil, turned down to simmer, or turned off entirely, then slip in the eggs? If eggs crack upon diving, is it because cold eggs don’t like hot tubs, or was there always a hairline crack in the shell, now allowing the egg white to leak into an albumin plume? Should you add vinegar to the water, or salt, or baking soda, or some combination to aid in peeling stubborn shells, a futile endeavor if your eggs are too fresh anyway? And what is that vile green ring between the yolk and the white?
Seems like a powerful amount of vexation for a little egg salad.
During my twenty+ bed and breakfast years, I’ve certainly baked eggs out of their shells. I’ve broken them into breakfast casseroles, or tucked them into shakshuka, or cunningly nestled them on toast points with Boursin and chives. I had never tried hard cooking eggs in the oven until recent necessity proved it a joyful exercise in simplicity.
Here’s how: Turn oven to 325 degrees. Make coffee, unload the dishwasher, feed the cats, check the forecast while it heats. Take eggs from fridge and put one whole, unbroken, in-the-shell egg into each cup of a muffin tin. Don’t grease the tin, don’t line it, nada. Just place the eggs and put the tin in the preheated oven. Bake for 25 minutes, depending on how hard you like the yolks. It might take few minutes more or less, depending on your oven. Err on the longer time the first effort.
Take from oven and immediately place eggs into an ice water bath to arrest further cooking, otherwise you risk the dreaded green ring*. Since I live Upstate
and it’s January, I scooped up a bowl of fresh snow, added water, and let the eggs swim in the slush, like the rest of us do this time of year.
Results: Some eggs were perfect. The yolk was yellow and centered, the white was firm but not rubbery, and they peeled without making hash of the egg. A few had a slight green ring, indicating too long in the oven, but that should be remedied with some trial and error. Overall, a far easier and satisfying method of hard cooking eggs. Plus, you can make as many as you have muffin tins.
What you should know:
1.*About that green ring… it’s ugly, but perfectly edible. Not only is it harmless, it doesn’t even alter the taste. It’s just the reaction of the hydrogen in the egg white combining with the sulphur in the yolk. It comes from cooking the eggs too long, or from neglecting to submerge the eggs in cold water after removing from heat.
2. The Freckle. When peeling a baked egg, there will be at least one little“beauty mark” on the white. It’s from the contact point where the shell meets the tin. It’s harmless, tasteless, and kind of cute.
3. Ovens vary and it may take a couple of tries to cook the eggs just the way you like them. In my two attempts, 25 minutes was too long, 20 minutes not long enough. The third time, I’ll try 23 minutes.
4. Fresh eggs are harder to peel than older ones. If the shells are being stubborn, cut egg in half horizontally and scoop the egg from the shell using a small spoon. The results are good for any use calling for chopped egg.