[We published a version of this article in March 2016, and it proved very popular, so we asked Rebekah if she would adapt it for this June issue. Eds.]
Three of my favorite meals involve eggs. This is fortunate, because we eat a lot of eggs here at the farm when things get busy. If you are a vegan, you can skip the rest of this article – and rest assured that if you visit us at dinner, we’ll make you something else even if we are eating eggs ourselves!
The first is a meal I eat exactly once each year, in celebration of the first peas of the season (any minute now!). This meal involves fresh, hot cornbread, freshly shelled peas that have been just barely brought to a boil in a very small amount of water, and poached eggs. Each person gets a shallow bowl with peas including a bit of the sweet liquid, with one or two poached eggs on top, and buttered cornbread on the side. The egg yolk makes a bit of a sauce for the peas, the cornbread sops it all up, and it’s indescribably delicious — and admittedly as messy as it sounds. Later in this article, you’ll find out how to select eggs that are fresh enough to poach and learn how to poach them.
The second is deviled eggs, which we eat pretty much year round, but most people think of as summer picnic food. Our favorite deviled eggs use lots of fresh dill and parsley, plus brined nasturtium pods (we pick these at the end of the summer and put them in a jar of very salty water — you could use capers, instead), sharp mustard, and organic mayo (purchased or homemade), all mixed into your perfectly hard-boiled yolks — more about these below. Unless you or someone in your family is on a low-salt diet, the flavor of the whites benefits from pre-salting — either by soaking the peeled hard-boiled eggs in salted water before you cut them open, or by sprinkling salt on the halves of the whites after removing the yolks. It’s important to remember that all foods containing mayonnaise should be kept cold.
The third meal, Hopple Popple, is one that my Dad makes. It’s never the same twice, but always involves potatoes and eggs, and might also contain leftover meat or cheese or vegetables. Faster than frittata, after all the ingredients are in the pan it is stirred until serving. This is ideal for those nights when we’re out planting until it’s pitch dark.
What you need to know about using eggs is that the age of the eggs matters and that you can identify your options pretty simply. You cannot neatly peel a hard-boiled egg that was laid too recently, and you cannot neatly poach an egg that was laid too long ago. Hopple Popple doesn’t care…
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, on 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 and 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 Egg Use Guide, illustration 1.
In a deep frying pan, put 1 inch of water, 1 tablespoon of 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 the Egg Use Guide illustration 2, it’s a good idea to use the vinegar.)
Two Ways to Make Hard-boiled 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 illustrations 3 and 4, they should float vertically, but with their bottom point off the bottom by at least ¼ inch. The top should not be more than ½ inch 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. Stand the eggs on their points. Cover them completely with cold water. You may, optionally, add salt, which would help keep any eggs that crack from streaming out into the water.
Place the 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. 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.