Eggs have been a staple in the kitchen for thousands of years. People domesticated chickens from wild jungle fowl in India some 4,000 years ago. In the early days, the males were bred and trained for cock fights, but soon people realized the main benefit of domesticating the birds was for their meat and eggs.
Eggs are extremely versatile: They are binding agents in custards, puddings, and casseroles; they emulsify (keep from separating) mayonnaise and sauces; and beaten egg whites create an airy foam used in cakes and meringues. Eggs can also act as glue in breading.
Of course, many people simply like their eggs boiled, scrambled, or fried. If prepared with skill, eggs can be quite tasty on their own. For instance:
Even people who don't cook can boil eggs, but it takes skill to get it just right. The best hard-boiled eggs have moist, bright-yellow, well-centered yolks, and the shells are a snap to remove.
The secret to a tender yolk is not to overcook the egg. Prolonged heat breaks down proteins, and the yolk becomes as dry and gray as dirty socks.
When you want hard-boiled eggs with well-centered yolks, use the freshest eggs available; older eggs are less likely to give the best result. Occasional gentle stirring while cooking eggs seems to help, because off-centered yolks tend to recenter themselves.
How do you tell if an egg is fresh? Fresh eggs will sink to the bottom and lie on their sides when placed in a bowl of water. Older eggs will stand upright on the bottom or float. Cartons of federally graded eggs must be stamped with an expiration date, which can be no more than 30 days after the eggs were packed.
The cooking method below should yield good results.
1. Bring eggs to room temperature before cooking. Leave them on your counter for an hour or two, or submerge them in warm water for a few minutes.
2. Place eggs in a cooking pot. Fill it with water to an inch or so above the eggs. Turn the burner on high. As soon as water starts to boil, reduce heat to very low and put the lid on. Simmer in barely bubbling water for 10 minutes, gently stirring a few times for better-centered yolks.
3. When cooked, remove eggs from the hot water with a slotted spoon (don't pour hot water off yet). Set eggs in a bowl and run cold water over them for 30 seconds (this helps prevent yolk discoloration, too). Then immerse them again in the hot water for another 30 seconds. Drain hot water and place the pot under slowly running cold water until eggs feel cool, about three or four minutes. These temperature shocks will shrink the fine membranes enough to separate them from the shells. Refrigerate eggs for several hours or overnight for easier peeling.
4. Place the chilled eggs in an empty pot, cover with a lid and, holding the lid down tight, shake them gently, so they bang against the sides of the pot and each other. This cracks the shells, another help in peeling. Afterward, soak eggs in water for 30 minutes or more. Water seeps under the shells, and, when it's time to peel, shells almost fall off by themselves.
Peeling under running water is another good idea. Start peeling at the flat end that contains an air pocket. Peel shells off so the membranes remain with the shell, not on the egg white.
Most cookbooks instruct you to scramble eggs slowly, over low heat. This method yields soft, fluffy, moist eggs. But eggs also can be scrambled over high heat that cooks them almost instantly. These stir-fried scrambled eggs are still soft and moist, though not as fluffy. They have a lively flavor that only the high heat of stir-frying can produce. Try this method for a pleasant surprise:
1. Crack eggs into a bowl and lightly stir together. Add salt and pepper, to taste. While most cooks add milk to scrambled eggs, you don't have to use it for this method. Milk gives eggs a softer, creamy texture; no milk yields a sturdier texture. It's your choice.
2. Measure a teaspoon of vegetable oil or oil-butter mixture for each egg (don't use olive oil that has a low smoking point). Then heat a heavy frying pan on high for 30 to 40 seconds. Have a spoon ready for stirring.
3. Add oil or oil-butter mixture to the pan and swirl it to cover the entire surface. Immediately pour eggs into the pan, stirring with zeal and making sure eggs don't stick. Cook eggs 20 to 30 seconds to reach the soft-scrambled stage, or just slightly longer for firmer eggs. Serve eggs immediately on a warm plate. (Note: Eggs are only good when fresh and hot. When lifting them out of the pan, they should be served within seconds.)
1. Gently crack two to four eggs into a bowl, without breaking yolks.
2. Heat a large, heavy frying pan over medium heat, and have a tight-fitting lid ready. When pan is hot, in about 30 seconds, turn heat to its lowest setting. Add one teaspoon of vegetable oil or butter to the pan for every two eggs and swirl it around.
Carefully slip eggs into the oiled pan and cover. The steam generated from the eggs cooks the whites but yolks remain runny.
3. For sunny-side-up eggs, leave them in the covered pan on low heat until the white is firm but yolk is runny - just a few minutes. Uncover the pan and gently ease a spatula under the eggs without breaking the yolk, and serve on warm plates.
If you prefer a firmer yolk, carefully flip eggs over when the whites are nearly firm. In seconds, both white and yolk will firm up. Lift them out immediately.