- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 6, 2004

Cooking foods in bubbling hot water may not seem particularly difficult, but just wait until you try to make hard-cooked Easter eggs in the shell so that they don’t explode or turn blue in the center and embarrass you in public.

This may sound like a cooking joke, but making a perfect hard-cooked egg is, well, difficult. Undercook, and the yolk is soft. Overcook, and the white is rubbery and the yolk a not-so-attractive shade of blue. That’s no way to start a deviled egg.

The amount of time required to make a hard-cooked egg differs with the size of the egg and whether it starts out at room temperature or cold from the refrigerator. It is also affected by whether the egg is placed in cold, room-temperature or hot water. (Cooking tip: Hot water is a bad idea, unless you enjoy the occasional exploded egg.)

Here’s what the American Egg Board recommends: To hard-cook eggs, place eggs in a single layer in a pan filled with water to cover by 1 inch. Cover the pan, bring to a boil, turn off the heat, and let the eggs sit (18 minutes for extra-large, 15 minutes for large and 12 minutes for medium eggs). Drain and place in cold water with ice cubes to cool. Replenish ice when it melts, until eggs are cooled.

That doesn’t work for me. The yellows come out a bit undercooked. However, when I place extra-large eggs straight from the refrigerator in a single layer in a pan filled with enough cold water to cover by 1 inch, bring them to a boil, turn off the heat, cover the pan and let them steep for 25 minutes, I end up with perfectly cooked eggs. Try it and see what you think.



Once we’ve mastered the hard-cooking technique, how can we neatly peel a fresh egg so that it doesn’t stick to the shell and break apart? We can’t. If the egg is really fresh, it probably won’t peel well. So if you need a guaranteed good peel, buy the eggs a week before cooking, and they will probably be neat and tidy.

This leads to the question of how to tell if an egg is fresh. The best way is to check out the carton. If it comes from a U.S. Department of Agriculture-inspected plant (not all eggs do), the date the egg was packed will be stamped on the carton. Or it may be stamped on the egg. Some plants even print expiration dates on the cartons. If there’s no date, ask the grocer for help.

Some people label eggs when they bring them home from the supermarket. That requires organization. So if you can’t quite remember when that carton was tucked into your shopping bag but you suspect it was some time during the Reagan administration, try placing the egg in a bowl of water. If it floats, an air pocket has developed inside, indicating that it’s probably not the best choice for dinner.

Smoked salmon and eggs

6 hard-cooked eggs, halved lengthwise

3 tablespoons cream cheese, softened

1 tablespoon sour cream or plain yogurt

Salt and white pepper

1/4 cup minced smoked salmon, plus 12 1/2-inch pieces for garnish

1 tablespoon chopped red onion

1 tablespoon drained capers

1 teaspoon snipped chives for garnish

Place egg yolks in a small bowl, and mash them with a fork. Add cream cheese and sour cream or yogurt, and ⅛ to 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper to taste, and mix until smooth. Stir in 1/4 cup salmon, onion and capers. Mound mixture into white egg halves, top each with a small piece of salmon for garnish, and sprinkle with chives. Makes 8 to 12 servings.

Salade nicoise

DRESSING:

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 clove garlic

1/2 teaspoon anchovy paste

⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground pepper

SALAD:

Salt

8 ounces green beans, trimmed

8 ounces (11/2-inch) unpeeled Yukon Gold or red potatoes

Freshly ground pepper

1 small head Boston lettuce torn into bite-size pieces (about 5 cups)

3 hard-cooked eggs, sliced

1 cup baby tomatoes, halved

1 (6-ounce) can tuna of choice, drained and flaked

2 tablespoons drained capers

⅓ cup nicoise olives, pitted

Make dressing by combining vinegar, mustard, garlic, anchovy paste, olive oil and salt in a food processor or blender. Season to taste with pepper. Set aside, or refrigerate, covered tightly, if not using immediately.

Fill a large pot or Dutch oven with water. Add 1 teaspoon salt and bring to a boil. Add green beans; watch while water returns to a boil.

Simmer for 1 to 2 minutes, until beans are just tender-crisp but not quite cooked through. (Cooking time will vary with the thickness and freshness of the beans.) With a slotted spoon, remove beans from water. Set aside.

Bring water again to a boil. Add potatoes and simmer about 15 minutes or until potatoes are tender. When potatoes are cool enough to handle (about 5 minutes), slice them into thirds and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

Arrange lettuce on a 13-inch serving platter or in a large bowl, and top with a line of egg slices along one end. Make another line next to it of tomatoes. Next to that, make a line of green beans, then another of potato slices. Drizzle with dressing; sprinkle with tuna, capers and olives.

Makes 4 servings.

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