Friday, June 15, 2012

Hard Eggs, part 1

I know.  You are not used to seeing "hard eggs"; you expect to see "hard boiled eggs".  Well the Alton Brown recipe for Hard Cooked Eggs strolled across my desktop one day and I knew that I had to try it.

He tells you how to cook eggs in the oven instead of boiling them on the stove.  Here's his recipe:  Hard Cooked Eggs

I'm excited about this idea for two reasons.  One is that if I'm going to make a few dozen hard eggs then I hate having to haul that heavy pan full of water and attempt to keep the eggs from cracking while they are cooking.  (You have to regulate the heat just right to keep them from boiling vigorously.)  The other is the historical connection.  It made sense to me that people who cooked on a hearth had heat and ashes to spare so why fill a pan full of water and bring it to a boil?

A little reading told me that even during the Elizabethan period in England, people hard boiled eggs.  But before that, when pans for boiling liquids were not as prevalent, what was done?  Easy!  You bake them!

I have seen two references for the process:  bake them in ashes or pack them in a shovel full of rock salt and bake them.  I can see that the first is the easiest but it takes experience to regulate the heat.  When you pack them in salt, it acts as a heat regulator; that is, it heats the egg more uniformly.

I decided to try all three methods.

First I used Alton Brown's method.  I put the eggs on the rack in a preheated 325 degree oven and baked them for 30 minutes.  It was so easy!  I put them in, set the timer, and ignored them until the timer went off.

The eggs sit right on the rack when they cook.
I didn't quite follow the directions when I tried the recipe the first time.  I didn't put the eggs into cold or ice water when I removed them from the oven -- I just put them on a rack to cool on the counter.  I was curious to see how they turned out.

Eggs cooling on the counter.
 Nearly every egg had the little brown spots.  A few were lightly cracked but none exploded or leaked white into the oven.

But the big question was:  How well did they cook? I took one egg and sliced it in half right through the shell.

It looked great!  Both the yolk and the white were firm and cooked.  I saw a little bit of the green ring around the yolk that tells me it was overcooked and I confirmed it by pulling out the yolk.

I assumed it was my fault that the yolk was overcooked because I didn't put the eggs into cold or ice water when they came out of the oven.  I have tried this several times since and put them in cold water -- and they always come out perfectly cooked.

I wondered why they were all spotted with the brown dots.  It looks like the little air pocket that all hen's eggs have is the culprit.

I suspect the air inside expanded and cracked the egg.  The moisture inside boiled and that is what caused all the splattering.  It certainly doesn't affect the taste of the egg!

The Verdict:  A resounding success!  Much better than I had expected because it is easy.  The second time I tried it I cooked a dozen eggs at once and it was just as easy.  *It helps to use some tongs to move the eggs to the cold water.  I used the metal kind that has loops as the tong ends; it made grabbing the egg and getting it to the water simple and risk-free.

So that's my experiment with an alternative method for cooking eggs until they are hard.  A later attempt used eggs cold from the refrigerator -- very cold -- and half of them cracked when done.  None leaked or caused a problem in the oven.  I would recommend letting them warm up for even 10 or 15 minutes before putting them in a hot oven.

In the next part, I play around with cooking eggs in ashes and packed in salt.

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