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In more hot water

In our last episode, it was all about simmering water and softboiled eggs. Today, we’re going to continue the discussion about heat and eggs with boiling water, hard boiled eggs and then eggs that are baked, shirred eggs.

One of the major differences about applying high heat to the protein in eggs (that is, producing ‘hard boiled eggs’) is that unlike soft boiled eggs, where the white becomes solidified but the yolk is still in at least a semi-liquid state (the better to dip pieces of buttered toast in, my dear), raising the temperature and the time spent in that temperature solidifies everything but again, the egg cooks from the outside in. This produces (and you all know this – I’m sure there are people who are already hitting themselves in the forehead figuratively and saying, “No duh!”) something that can be sliced, diced, mixed up with tasty bits like pickle relish and mayo to produce socalled ‘devilled eggs’ and so on. So, let’s look at boiling water:

Now technically speaking, at least at sea level, water boils at 212 degrees F (or 100 degrees C). Again, if you are located either way up in the Rockies or way down below sea level, this can be different so it’s much more important to look and listen. It’s also important to remember that all proteins react in a similar fashion to boiling liquids (whether it’s water, soup, stew, chili, the liquid in the pan for pot roast, a piece of meat in a frying pan and so on): It hardens up. With meat, what happens is that the protein fibers just snap into place and frankly stay that way. With eggs, that’s why hard boiled eggs have the look, flavor and texture that they do. With meat, high heat can turn the best piece of beef, chicken, pork, etc. into something resembling and old boot.

Boiling water is for tea, sterilizing and hard boiled eggs. For stuff going into your mouth and stomach, simmering is the trick: it helps break down vegetable matter without turning it into mush; it helps animal based proteins soften up, release collagen, and become soft enough to eat without pulling out your bridge. It also preserves a lot more vitamins and other nutrients.

So, now that I have firmly seduced you to the low heat side of the spectrum, here is another egg trick with simmering water, poached eggs. Now, for folks who have FOPE (fear of poached eggs), let me tell you: It’s ok; you can come out now. I have FOPE too. There are all sorts of hints, tips and tricks (using rings made out of tuna cans in the bottom of the pot, getting a specialty piece of equipment, putting the egg in a bowl in the bottom of the pot, putting vinegar in the pot, and so on). I’ve tried them all, including the ubiquitous “whirl the water briskly around the edge of the pot and slide the egg into the center” trick (which produced for me this sort of egg sludge that looked a bit like egg drop soup without any soup).

The trick with poached eggs is this: Stop worrying about this gorgeous, perfect, patty-like white thing. OK? Just let that go.
See, isn’t that better. Just tell Martha to take a hike, ok? The trick is to get everything else you are going to serve with the poached egg hot and ready. Then make the egg, slide it onto the plate with a slotted spoon and serve with everything else (and yes, the folks in the UK do serve it with baked beans. I have no idea why but my mom used to give that to us when I was ill as a child and I have to tell you that that combination used to make me feel better almost immediately. I also think that it was because she used to give us a cup of coffee with a lot of milk as well so it was probably the caffeine). Just gobble the whole thing up while it is hot, no matter what it looks like.

And finally, shirred eggs. Why they are called shirred is beyond me. In France they are referred to as “oeufs en cocotte” which I think is translated as ‘eggs in little dishes that I don’t have any other name for”. This is one of those dishes that can become a really neat ‘I just got home; I’m staring into the fridge and I have no idea what to do” sorts of dishes especially if you have left over bits of ham, cooked veggies and so on to combine in the base of a greased ramakin or other shallow dish (little pyrex(tm) bowls work also). Here you go:

So, there you have it.
The goals for today were to talk about:
The differences between simmering and boiling water.
What those differences do to protein.
Another couple of ways to cook eggs in water.
A way to bake eggs in the oven.

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2 Comments

  1. msmolly says:

    I’ve read that boiling eggs is what makes that grayish ring around the yolk of the hardboiled egg. If you cook them in gently simmering water, just like softboiled eggs only for a longer time, you don’t get that gray ring. In fact, if you put them in boiling water and immediately cover the pan and remove it from the flame, the eggs are nicely hard in about 20 minutes – and you save a lot of energy. I never cook eggs in boiling water. JMHO.

  2. Toby Wollin says:

    msmolly – yep, it’s that combination of time and temperature. I’d never heard about the grey ring issue – I’ll have to remember that.

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