Cracking the secret of boiled eggs
Boiling an egg in water seems like a no-brainer, right? How tricky can that be? Well, as Michael Deutsch, executive chef of Fleuri Restaurant at the Sutton Place Hotel (845 Burrard Street) puts it: “Sometimes the simplest things are the hardest to do.”
And it all begins with the star ingredient itself: the egg. Over the phone, Dino Arsens, owner of Paul’s Omelettery (2211 Granville Street), talks about how he loves eggs, eating them every second day, and only using free-run ones at his restaurant. After all, although they may look similar on the outside, not all eggs are the same on the inside.
Steve Easterbrook, owner of Rabbit River Farms in Richmond (available at various supermarkets, such as Choices and Save-On-Foods), explains during a phone chat that many mass-produced eggs come from hens crammed into small cages in low-lit, dingy barns and fed a diet that partly consists of low-cost animal byproduct (basically the nonmeat components of the animals).
The alternatives are eggs from certified organic farmers, like Easterbrook, who treat their animals ethically. His uncaged hens are free to roam in a light and airy barn, as well as the organic pasture outside. He uses no pesticides or antibiotics and feeds the birds all organic grains, like soy beans, corn, and wheat, as well as, indirectly, the grass (and the occasional bug) outdoors.
The higher-quality food leads to a definite difference in egg taste. You might also notice a more vibrant, sunshiny yolk colour. “I get a lot of comments from people who say that the eggs taste better, a little richer, a little eggier,” says Easterbrook.
Okay, you’ve got your eggs, so now what? Deutsch explains that in general, you should start with room-temperature eggs to avoid “shocking” them with a drastic shift in temperature when you start cooking them. He suggests two different ways of boiling eggs. One method is putting them in a pot of cold water, with the water level a few centimetres above the eggs, and then bringing the water to a simmer.
Deutsch, however, says he much prefers dropping the eggs into already simmered water and leaving them in three to six minutes for soft, six to eight for medium, and eight to 10 for hard-boiled (depending on the size). Once the eggs hit the water, the outer whites immediately start to coagulate, resulting in perfectly soft poached eggs.
Once you’ve got your egg in your favourite egg cup, you may want more than salt and pepper on top (although that’s how Arsens’s wife prefers it). Deutsch suggests salsa, salsa verde, mushroom tapenade, hot tabasco sauce, and harissa (a Tunisian hot-chili sauce) to add more flavour and bite to each spoonful of egg.
He and Easterbrook also give some tips when it comes to hard-boiled eggs. Deutsch reminds you to run cold water over the eggs once you’re done boiling them. That way, you’ll stop the cooking process and won’t end up with that greenish-grey yolk tinge. Using older eggs will also prevent this colouring (Easterbrook recommends using eggs that are at least two weeks old). Better yet, older eggs are easier to peel. Deutsch suggests tapping the egg on its top and bottom, rolling it once in your hand, or across a surface, and then peeling the shells off underwater.
Easterbrook says that his family’s favourite way to eat boiled eggs is to devil them using mayo, dry mustard, and cayenne pepper: “People love them. They get snarfed up in 10 minutes.” He adds that small and medium eggs are the best since there is less yolk, and they’re a less messy one- to two-bite appetizer size. Deutsch instructs to scoop the yolk out, push it through a mesh strainer, whisk it with desired add-ins, and then use a piping bag to pipe the mixture back into the halved eggs. Besides mayo, which he always includes, Deutsch has played with adding various mustards, truffle oil, ranch dressing, saffron, and even minced cooked mushroom to the yolks.
Deutsch brainstorms other uses for boiled eggs, including jazzing egg salad up with chopped gherkins or olives, or grating it over a mimosa salad. Easterbrook says that some of his customers make Scotch eggs, which are basically hard-boiled eggs wrapped in sausage meat, covered in bread crumbs, and then deep fried. (Warning: not for the faint of heart—literally.) Some of his staff, meanwhile, make an Indian curry egg dish featuring a curry sauce, paneer cheese, and of course, hard-boiled eggs.
And after you’ve enjoyed your boiled eggs, you might consider visiting the farm to meet the chicken that laid your egg. Easterbrook runs monthly tours visit the Rabbit River Farm website for info so consumers can learn more about where their eggs come from. He’ll even let you hold the hen.