Hard-Cooked Eggs, Not Eggs-actly Perfect, But Still Delicious

Spring has sprung, which means it's time for eggs. Colored eggs are used to celebrate spring in general, as well as the Christian observance of Easter or the Persian new year, Nowruz. And a hard-boiled egg is one of the items on a seder plate at Passover dinner.

In pursuit of the perfect spring egg, I tested several different methods for hard cooking -- not hard boiling -- eggs, all of which had fans swearing up and down that theirs was the best and most foolproof method for easy-to-peel shells and yellow yolks. Common to all was that eggs should not be boiled; overlong heating produces an unpleasant gray line around the yoke and a strong smell. Instead, eggs should be put in a pan, covered with one inch of cold water, brought just to a boil over high heat, then removed from heat and covered. How long they remain covered, and what happens next, differ widely among methods, though.

The first recipe I tried was from Cook's Country magazine (subscription necessary):

  • Place eggs in medium saucepan, cover with one inch of water, and bring to boil over high heat.
  • Remove pan from heat, cover, and let stand 10 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, fill medium bowl with one quart of water and a dozen ice cubes.
  • Pour off water from saucepan and gently shake pan back and forth to crack shells.
  • Transfer eggs to ice water with slotted spoon and let cool 5 minutes.

Results: The yolks were perfectly cooked and yellow, but the eggs weren't uniformly easy to peel. The cracks from jostling the eggs produced little dents in the finished egg. One egg came out with the white intact, though dented; the others had egg-white chunks of varying size that came off with the shell when peeling.

Next was Julia Child's hard-cooked egg method, from The Way to Cook, which had a few more steps:

  • Lay the eggs in the pan and cover with 1 inch cold water. Set over high heat and bring just to the boil; remove from heat, cover the pan, and let sit exactly 17 minutes.
  • When the time is up, transfer the eggs to the bowl of ice cubes and water. Chill for 2 minutes while bringing the cooking water to the boil again. (This 2 minute chilling shrinks the body of the egg from the shell.)
  • Transfer the eggs to the boiling water, bring to the boil again, and let boil for 10 seconds - this expands the shell from the egg. Remove eggs, and place back into the ice water. If time allows, leave the eggs in the ice water after the last step for 15 to 20 minutes. Chilled eggs are easier to peel. Peel at the sink under a thin stream of cold water.

With Julia's admittedly more complicated method, I had a faint gray line around the yolks, probably from her longer time in the heated, covered water. They were, however, very easy to peel.

In search of simplicity, I next tried a 10-minute method. I covered the eggs with one inch of cold water, brought them to a boil over high heat, removed from heat and covered. I let them sit for 10 minutes, then ran cold water into the pot, dumping out the warm water, until no water remained.

These eggs had slightly undercooked yolks (though no gray line) and were not easy to peel; every egg had chunks out of the white that clung to the shell.

A friend recommended one of Sarah Moulton's methods, which was the same as the above, but with a 13-minute wait and optional ice bath.

Moulton's yolk, like Cook's Country's, was perfectly cooked, but the eggs weren't easy to peel. Moulton elsewhere recommends not-fresh eggs for hard cooking, as the shell and inner membrane have time to separate, which makes them easier to peel.

So, after all the batches of eggs, I found no perfect method. Some produced perfectly cooked yolks. Julia's eggs were easiest to peel, but fussiest to make. Perhaps I'm a cooking fool, or there are no foolproof recipes. Maybe I'm a klutz and am no good at peeling eggs. But the next time I hard-cook eggs, I'll combine the best of the recommendations:

  • Use week-old eggs stored in the back of the refrigerator.
  • Place in pan, cover with one inch of cold water. Bring just to a boil over high heat.
  • Remove from heat and cover for 10 minutes. Gently crack shells, then drain water. Transfer to an ice bath for at least five minutes.
  • Tap shell at bottom, then all over to crack. Peel under thin stream of cold, running water.

Once hard cooked, eggs are excellent for packed lunches, portable snacks, and my personal favorite, deviled eggs. These contain most of the ingredients of a seder plate, so make a great first course for Passover supper using kosher-for-Passover ingredients.

Deviled Eggs (makes 12)

  • 6 hard-cooked eggs, peeled, cut in half, yolks and whites separated
  • 3 Tablespoon mayonnaise
  • 1 Tablesppon prepared horseradish
  • 1 Tablespoon mustard (spicy brown or Dijon)
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 freshly ground black pepper
  • parsley, chopped fine

Place yolks in bowl with mayonnaise, horseradish, mustard, salt and pepper. Mash thoroughly with fork. Place filling in plastic baggie, then close. Snip off corner and squeeze filling into egg whites. Garnish with parsley.


Kristin J. Boldon lives in Northeast Minneapolis with her husband and two sons. She grew up in Central Ohio, but moved to Minnesota in 1998 from the east coast. (We're glad she stayed!) Kristin has a B.S. in Business from Georgetown University and an M.A. in Religion from Temple. In her so-called spare time, she cooks, bakes, practices yoga, reads, and writes for the Eastside Food Cooperative's newsletter on health and wellness, and for her own blog Girl Detective.