Q: What's the perfect way to boil eggs? I've tried every tip out there, it seems. Each one promises perfectly boiled eggs that can be shelled easily.
—Lorna Lim Wong, Chicago
A: A great question from a former Tribune colleague – one which has many answers. For example: Rose Carrarini offered just three sentences of instruction in her recently published book, "How to Boil an Egg."
"To cook hard-boiled eggs, put them into a pan of cold water and bring to a boil,'' she writes. "Reduce the heat and simmer 15-20 minutes, then drain off the hot water and replace with cold. Let stand until the eggs are cool enough to shell."
Sounds simple. And Carrarini is owner of the popular Rose Bakery, a bakery/restaurant with multiple locations in Paris, so she should know, right?
Right. But many of us want a little more hand-holding, a little more verbiage, when we go to boil an egg, especially one that can be shelled easily. It ain't always easy to do, however.
"Despite their simplicity, cooking eggs perfectly — in the shell or out — requires practice. There's no way around it," wrote JeanMarie Brownson, the Tribune's Dinner at Home columnist, in a 2012 article on eggs cookery. She warned that one shouldn't boil eggs for fear of developing "that smelly gray circle around the yolk that comes from overcooking."
Brownson, in her column, offered a method for hard-cooked eggs based on the directions given in Julia Child's "The Way to Cook." Child's method, in turn, was based on work down by the Georgia Egg Board. The resulting six steps "takes a bit of fussing,'' Child wrote, but produced the perfect hard-cooked egg.
Here is Brownson's simplified version: "Put eggs into a deep saucepan in a single layer. Add cold water to cover by 1 inch. Heat the pan to a boil over medium-high heat, staying close to the stove to see the moment it boils. Count 60 seconds, then turn off the heat. Let the eggs stand in the water, 14 minutes. Then, carefully tip the hot water out and add cold water to the pan along with a couple of handfuls of ice cubes. Let stand until the eggs are cool. Refrigerate up to several days."
Now, to the peeling. I always have trouble shelling super-fresh eggs so I try to use "older" ones if possible. That's not really a problem because I tend to buy my eggs at the supermarket and always forget to use them until I'm coming up on the expiration date.
My own peeling technique is kind of weird; I developed it when I was 13 or 14. I crack the shell once or twice, put the egg under running water and try to get the edge of my thumbnail hooked under that thin membrane that lies under the shell. Then I slide my thumb gently sideways (like strumming a banjo) to slowly pry/peel the shell off without gouging the egg too badly. I try never to look at the egg while I'm peeling, partially because I think touch is a surer guide to the process but also because, deep down inside, I still have this fear that I'll jinx the operation if I look at the egg. (I know, I know: weird.)
A more orthodox peeling method is described in Child's cookbook: "Crack an egg all over by gently tapping it against the sink. Then, starting at the large end, and holding the egg either under a thin stream of cold water or in a bowl of ice water, start peeling. As soon as you have peeled it, return the egg to the ice water so that it will continue to chill."
Do you have a question about food or drink? E-mail Bill Daley at: email@example.com. Snail mail inquiries should be sent to: Bill Daley, Chicago Tribune, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago 60611. Twitter @billdaley.