Many of us celebrate springtime with eggs. Easter and Passover both feature eggs pretty prominently and chances are over the next month or two you are going to find yourself using more of them than you usually do. Interestingly, whether you plan to make sponge cake featuring separated and beaten eggs (with a non-grain flour for Passover) or hardboiled eggs (with or without a natural colorant for Easter), you will want to use eggs that are a little older than you would use for perfect fried eggs and a lot older than you would use for perfect poached eggs.
Herewith, a freshness guide to test your eggs at home. (Note: as a farmer this comes in handy when you find a hidden nest in the barn or hedgerow.)
Using Your Eggs
Eggs are good for different things at different ages, and it’s actually possible to tell just how old they are, even without a label, because the changes to the air pocket at the end of the egg over time cause it to float differently. If you don’t know how old an egg is, fill a container with cool water and gently place the whole raw egg in the water, onto its side.
- If it lies horizontally on the bottom it’s too fresh to peel or whip, but just right for making a poached egg.
- If it sits vertically just at the bottom, it’ll be a fine choice for frying since it’ll spread just enough on the pan to cook the white fully. (If you really want to poach it anyway, use a bit of vinegar in the cooking water to keep it in one piece.)
- If it hovers vertically a bit off the bottom, it’s perfect for hard-boiling or for separating and whipping for recipes that depend on that.
- If it floats vertically partially above the top, it’s getting older and the air pocket inside the end is getting larger. It’s probably still fine for most cooked recipes, but break it separately into its own container and give it a sniff.
- If it bobbles over onto its side up on top, it has gone bad, feed it to your compost heap (break it with a shovel so it doesn’t sit intact in the pile).
Recipe for Poached Eggs
Choose eggs that are really fresh, ideally less than three days old. (If you place them in water, they should sit horizontally down in the bottom of the container, as in the first illustration.)
In a deep frying pan, put 1″ of water, 1 tablespoon or oil or butter, and a 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Bring to a gentle simmer. Break eggs, one at a time, into a dish and then gently slide them into the frying pan. Remove them a minute or two later, in the same order they arrived, with a slotted spoon.
Note: lots of people put vinegar into the water for poaching eggs to keep them tight and round. With really fresh eggs, they’ll stay together without the vinegar and they’ll taste much more delicious. (If your eggs sit vertically as in figure two, it’s a good idea to use the vinegar.)
Two ways to make Hardboiled Eggs
Choose eggs at least three weeks old or you will not be able to peel them without chunks of white coming off with the shells. (As shown in figure 3 and 4, they should float vertically, but with their bottom point off the bottom by at least 1/4”. The top should not be more than 1/2″ above the water, so the depth of the water should be taller than the egg is or you won’t learn what you need to learn.)
Select a pan that holds all the eggs you want to boil, in one snug layer. They’ll be standing on their points. Cover the eggs completely with cold water. You may, optionally, add salt (this would help keep any eggs that crack from streaming out into the water).
Place pan on medium to high heat and bring to a boil. At that point you have two good choices:
- If you are in a hurry, set the timer for 5 minutes and continue to boil them, then run them under cold water until they are cool enough to peel.
- If you are not in a hurry, cover them, turn them off and let the eggs sit in the hot water for 17 minutes. Then pour off the hot water and fill with cold water and wait until it’s convenient to peel them.
If you’re dyeing your eggs and want some ideas on using natural dyes, here’s a link to an article in Organic Life magazine http://www.rodalesorganiclife.com/home/natural-easter-egg-dye