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Thursday, May 17, 2012

Unillustrated Instructional 2: How to boil an egg

OK, first a clarification: this isn't really about how to boil an egg. You'll find plenty of advice on that elsewhere. Someone came up with a clever new way of doing this a while ago - bring the eggs to a boil in a pot, then shut off the heat and leave them, covered, for fifteen minutes - and I found that this resulted in an egg with a mostly-uncooked yolk. That's fine if you're into that sort of thing, I suppose. My advice there: cook the eggs long enough to be hard-boiled, but not so long that you start to remove the water from the egg white, resulting in a tough egg white with a waffle-textured surface.

Also, start by gently heating the water with the eggs already in it. Heating the water too quickly, or adding the eggs to already-boiling water, may make the shells crack.

But enough of that. This instructional is meant to address a more serious issue: distinguishing hard-boiled eggs from uncooked eggs.

When we were kids my mom would mark hard-boiled eggs by drawing smiley faces on them. The problem was, if she did this using a marker, the marker ink would bleed through the shell and get onto the egg white. If she did it with a pencil, the markings would be so light that it would be possible to mistake a hard-boiled egg for a raw one - and sometimes the mistake would go the other way.

A few years ago I remembered something I had heard from the nuns back when I was in grade school, about how in the days of the Great Depression people would dye their Easter Eggs with things like coffee grounds or onion skins. It hit me that adding a piece of onion skin to the pot while boiling eggs might cause some of the color to leak onto the shells. And whaddya know, it worked!

(I recently learned that there's a term for these eggs - pace eggs, though these are associated with the Easter season, and appear to be much more darkly dyed than the eggs I make.)

To boil an egg so that it can be easily distinguished from raw eggs in the refrigerator, add a small bit of onion skin to the pot. That's it. I use roughly a 3/4" x 3/4" bit of onion skin, though whatever size you grab will probably be fine. You're looking for the dry outer skin of the onion, the stuff that ends up left over in the bag. The larger the piece the darker the color of the boiled eggs. A small piece will cause them to turn beige, a moderate piece will give a buff color like those fancy expensive eggs at the supermarket (so this is an inexpensive way to fool any snoopy friends who might judge you by the color of your eggs), and a lot of skin will turn the eggs a mottled brown.

One note: this doesn't seem to work with the purple outer skins of red onions. If you're feeling adventurous and want to experiment with marking your eggs red, you might want to add some beet juice to the water when you boil the eggs. This might (or might not) change the taste of the eggs - I have no idea.

1 comment:

j said...

I did this for years. Until I got chickens who lay brown eggs!