Conflicted Kitchen

Happiness is a Hard Cooked Egg

Breakfast is under fire again, but not everyone fears the yolk.

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A properly hard-cooked eggDuring my time as a nutrition editor, I learned basically just one thing for sure: For any one study suggesting something about a particular food, there’s another one in the recent past that will prove the opposite. Though almost every ingredient has its boosters and opponents, no food is so fraught with conflict as the egg. Perhaps you’ve seen the most recent study, the one that has been widely interpreted as finding that egg eating is as bad for your heart health as smoking.

After looking a little closer at this research, I remain skeptical. This study was based on a questionnaire given to patients already at risk for health problems, and their average age was 60. Other key factors—notably exercise habits and waist circumference—were ignored. And, finally, the research doesn’t look at the origin of the eggs and whether the chickens they came from were fed organic or GMO-laced feed.

I believe that farm-raised eggs are among the healthiest foods anywhere. I eat them almost daily and have good cholesterol and triglyceride levels and perfect blood pressure, in spite of a family history of heart disease. Furthermore, eating eggs seems to help people achieve a healthier body weight. Each one contains only about 70 calories and they don’t cause the blood sugar surges that lead to cravings and hunger before lunchtime. In fact, there are studies that suggest when you eat eggs in the morning you burn more calories all day.

Health issues aside, eggs are plain delicious. They can, of course, be cooked dozens of different ways. I tend to default to scrambled and fried, neglecting other worthy techniques. Hard-boiling is one of the healthiest methods, since there’s no added fat, and cooked eggs in the shell are as easy to transport for lunch or a snack as any packaged food.

“Hard-boiled” isn’t the perfect term for the method, because you get the best results from barely boiling your eggs at all. The vast majority of hard-boiled eggs are overcooked, with rubbery whites, chalky yolks, a faintly sulfurous smell, and the dreaded green or gray ring. No wonder the comparatively sexy fried and poached eggs get all the glory.

The right method is simple. Place as many eggs as you’d like to cook in a deep saucepan, and cover them by 2 inches with water. Over medium-high heat, bring the water to a low, gentle boil, and cook the eggs for 1 minute. Cover the saucepan, remove from the heat, and allow the eggs to finish cooking in the hot water for 6 minutes. Rinse them under cold water and then enjoy immediately or refrigerate for up to a week.

A correctly cooked hard-boiled egg is a pleasure to eat, even unadorned. The whites will be tender and delicate. The yolk will be firm all the way through, but with a visible circle of moisture at the center. Eaten warm with a thin layer of mayonnaise and a generous sprinkle of coarse salt, it’s hard to beat.

But that’s only the beginning of the eggy applications when it comes to these shell-encased treats. If you make a big batch and want to use them creatively, just let your mind wander to the “put a fried egg on it” craze of recent years. All of those dishes are candidates for sliced or diced hard cooked eggs too, including sandwiches, salads, burgers, and pizza. If you need more inspiration to cook up your own supply, here are 15 ideas:

Gribiche. This French sauce sounds fancier than it is. First, separate the cooked yolk from the white. Chop the egg white and set aside. In a mixing bowl, smash the yolk with a fork, then mash in a bit of mustard and a splash of warm water until it’s whiskable. Starting with a few drops at a time, add ½ cup grapeseed oil, never adding more than a thin steady stream while whisking constantly a la mayonnaise. Add the chopped egg white, and minced parsley, capers, and cornichons in whatever quantity you like. It’s like a mayo-meets-relish type sauce. I like it spooned over roast chicken breast or white fish.

Pickled Eggs. This is a retro bar snack for your next at-home happy hour. You can find a good basic recipe plus several appetizing variations here.

Egg Curry. This is a fast, satisfying, healthy dinner that’s actually a weeknight staple in mostly-vegetarian India. You can make your favorite curry sauce, or cheat shamelessly with one of the very good “simmer sauces” on the market, like the ones from Trader Joe’s. Sautee some sliced onion in a little ghee (or butter), and warm up as much simmer sauce as you’d like. Quarter your eggs, add them to sauce, and gently stir them to coat them in sauce and warm them up. Serve over rice, with some minced fresh cilantro for some freshness.

Gussied up Deviled Eggs. This one is a no brainer, but branch out from your standby recipe. Instead of mayonnaise, use crème fraîche or Greek yogurt to creamify the yolks. Think like a gastropub and add some chopped shrimp or crab to the mixture. Make it spicy with some sriracha. Add sour cream and every herb in your garden and call them “Green Goddess Eggs.” Top with sesame seeds or toasted panko crumbs for a textural contrast. Note: fancy deviled eggs are a good way to show off at a get-together. Bonus points if you make a basic filling and let guests assemble and top their own. Inexpensive caviar really puts this party trick over the top.

Fromage Forte. The French have many recipes for using up odds and ends, and this is a good one. While most recipes for this cheese snack don’t call for the eggs, I have seen it done this and it only adds to the finished product. To make your Fromage Forte, cut whatever heels of cheese you have laying around into cubes and toss in the food processor with one or two eggs, a crushed clove of garlic, and a glug of white wine. Process until reasonably smooth and then spread on toast.

Chopped Salad. There is no chopped salad that isn’t vastly improved with slices of a hard cooked egg. Any combination of salad greens and blanched, chilled vegetables can become part of this kind of clean-out-the refrigerator dinner. Eggs get along with everyone in the crisper.

No-Groceries Gratin. Do you know how to make béchamel, which is the ultimate casserole glue (far superior to canned cream of mushroom)? If yes, proceed. If no, learn how here. Make some béchamel and fold into it a couple handfuls of dried bread cubes, chopped hard cooked eggs, and cheese. Butter a casserole dish. Spoon the mixture into it, top with cheese and breadcrumbs and broil until warm and brown on top.

Pressed Sandwiches. Slice a baguette lengthwise and coat lightly with mayonnaise. Layer thinly sliced hard-boiled eggs with thinly sliced red onion, a layer of good canned tuna or mashed sardines, and sliced tomatoes. Season liberally with salt and pepper. Wrap it as tightly as possible in plastic wrap, and top with something heavy in the fridge (like a big can). Overnight, the flavors and layers will compress and blend and tomorrow you’ll be the envy of the foodies in your lunchroom.

Scotch Eggs. Do you own a Fry Daddy or have the courage to deep fry in a Dutch oven? A hard cooked egg gets enrobed with sausage, breaded, and fried. You can find excellent step-by-step instructions here: Make a cheaters version by skipping the breading and the deep fryer. Bake your sausage-wrapped eggs on a parchment-lined baking sheet at 400 degrees until brown on the outside.

Spaghetti with Eggs and Crumbs. In a large nonstick skillet, melt plenty of butter and sauté some plain breadcrumbs until crisp and brown. Add some garlic and continue cooking just until fragrant. Add cooked spaghetti and toss to coat. Top with grated hard cooked eggs, fresh parsley, grated Romano cheese, fresh black pepper and a swirl of extra virgin olive oil.

Fancy Croissandwich. Spilt a croissant lengthwise, and add slices of egg. Top with smoked salmon and fronds of fresh dill.

Hearty Tomato Salad. Take a mess of little heirloom tomatoes and quarter them. Take a few eggs and quarter them. Combine in a bowl with olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt and pepper. Optional: Crisscross the top with anchovy fillets.

Kedgeree. This is a quirky Indian-English hodgepodge that involves eggs, fish, rice, curry powder, parsley. It is usually eaten for breakfast. I defer to Nigella.

Lentil and Spinach Salad. Mix up equal parts cooked lentils, baby spinach, and chopped egg. Top with homemade or store bought vinaigrette. A little finely diced red onion and parsley would not be ill advised.

Tea Sandwiches. Maybe your basic egg salad, spread on crustless white bread, and cut into quarters. Serve with tea and cookies.

Photo by Jude Doyland via Flickr (Creative Commons).

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