Making hard cooked eggs

This is the time of year when the chickens start producing fewer eggs due to the shrinking daylight hours and their annual molt. In spring and summer I usually get a minimum of three eggs a day from my five hens. Now there are days I only get one or even no eggs at all. But my hens are healthy and from good winter laying breeds, so I don’t expect to run out of eggs completely.

That means that in this household, egg dishes are on the menu pretty regularly. One of my favorite ways to enjoy the egg bounty is as hard-cooked eggs. They’re so portable and are great for breakfast, lunch, or as a snack.

There’s a saying that’s often used to demonstrate someone’s rookie cooking skills: “X doesn’t even know how to boil an egg.” It’s actually pretty difficult to make good hard-cooked (also called hard-boiled) eggs from backyard chicken eggs. Fresh eggs have very little air space between the white and the shell. While it is possible to hard cook them, it is impossible to peel them neatly. The few times I’ve tried hard cooking eggs that were less than 10 days old resulted in a disappointing mess with large chunks of white coming off with the shell. (I’m sure my chickens appreciated all that extra protein, though, since I always feed their egg shells back to them.)

So the first lesson of making good hard-cooked eggs is to use eggs that are about 10 days old. Eggs from the grocery store are usually at least a week old already, so you shouldn’t have to wait too long to make those into hard-cooked eggs. If you have your own chickens or are buying eggs from a local farmer you have to plan in advance.

Some people are very picky about hard-cooked eggs that have a green ring around the yolk. The standard explanation for why this happens is that the egg has been overcooked. Sometimes I’m lucky and can avoid getting that ring, but since I want my hard-cooked eggs to be quite firm I find that I often get it when I’m making eggs this way. What I’m more concerned about is making sure the eggs aren’t rubbery. The few times I’ve purchased hard-cooked eggs at carry out restaurants they have universally been waaayyy overcooked and rubbery. (I’ve usually only done this because of travel or very poor meal planning on my part, so I try very hard not to do the latter and just make different choices when I’m traveling.)

A critical element to avoid over-cooking hard-cooked eggs is to only use eggs that are similar in size. Again, those purchasing eggs from a grocery store don’t usually have to worry about this since eggs are sorted for size/weight as they are packaged. Folks with their own flock and those purchasing eggs from farmers directly will usually wind up with an assortment of sizes, though.

OK, so now we have some eggs that are properly aged and of similar size. Now we just boil them, right? Well, no. First I pierce each egg with a floral pin at the round end where the air space is located. This is going to help me peal that egg much easier when it is done cooking. Next, I add cool water to just cover the eggs in the cooking pan and set it over the heat. I bring the pan just to a boil, then I put the lid on and turn off the heat.

How long one needs to let the eggs sit in the hot water until they are fully cooked depends on the size of the eggs, and this is why it is easy to over cook them and get the green ring. Some instructions say to let them sit for a minimum of 12 minutes, and even as long as 18 minutes for jumbo eggs; others say to let them sit for seven minutes. In my experience, 12 minutes would be way too long for any size egg and would the result would be guaranteed rubbery and unappealing. When I’m cooking some of the very large eggs my New Hampshire Red hens are producing, I usually let them sit for about nine minutes. When I’ve only let them sit for seven minutes the result was something between a soft-cooked and a hard-cooked egg; the whites weren’t entirely firm and the yolk was only about 95% done. If I wanted to try avoiding the dreaded green ring at all costs I would probably let them sit for only eight minutes, but I’m willing to risk it to ensure that my eggs will be firmly set. But if I was cooking a batch of the smaller eggs produced by my Speckled Sussex hens, then that seven minute time would work out just fine.

The final step is super important: once the time for sitting in hot water is reached, plunge the eggs into an ice water bath. Get the bowl of (mostly) ice and water ready while the eggs are “steeping” in the hot water. I use a slotted spoon to shift each egg from the pot of hot water to the ice bath, then I let them sit for another 10 minutes to be sure they are completely set and cooled. Then they go into the refrigerator with their shells still on until ready for consumption.

Because I’ve pierced the airspace of each egg with the floral pin, I find that there is a bit of water that dribbles out when I peal the egg, but I’m OK with that. When I haven’t pierced the eggs before cooking, they just don’t peel as neatly even if I follow all the other “best practices” for hard cooking eggs.

Recently I decided to try baking my eggs in the shell to see if this technique would produce better hard-cooked eggs. It didn’t. After peeling, the egg white was scorched in the area that had been in contact with the pan, and I found it easier to over cook the eggs this way, too. So I’m going to continue making my hard-cooked eggs the tried and true way: age, sort, steep, and chill. Yum!

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Hens at rest

Brrrr….We are starting the really cold weather early this year. It was 7 degrees (Fahrenheit) this morning when I got up to let out the chickens. It’s not typical to have temps this low so early in the winter.

Today was a new milestone: not one egg in the nestbox. For the previous few days it had dwindled down to only one a day, but today when I went out the nest was completely empty. Since the hens started laying last September, I have never gone a day without getting an egg. Up until the past week or so, I’ve usually gotten at least 2 eggs a day. So, this is quite a remarkable event.

It’s not cecessarily the cold weather but the lack of daylight and the fact that the hens are molting now. The sun is now coming up at about 6:20 AM and setting by 4:30 PM. That’s about 10 hours of daylight, which is far from the optimal 14-hours for egg laying.

I want the hens to have a rest, quite frankly, but I still hope to get an egg tomorrow. One can always hope…

Fruits of my labors

I thinned the winter greens a bit today, so I made myself a gourmet lunch. These tiny seedlings are often referred to as "micro greens" at fancy restaurants. Here the combination is arugula and spinach. I tossed the greens with a touch of extra-virgin olive oil and salt. The eggs are from my own chickens (of course). I've been saving a dozen eggs for about 3 weeks now just so I can make some into hard-cooked eggs. I did use the trick of putting a pinhole in the air space (through the round end), too. This combination of techniques worked: I was able to peel the eggs fairly easily.

Of course it was incredibly yummy! I still have a lot more thinning to do, so I hope to enjoy more salads like this over the next few weeks.

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Chicken evangelist

That seems to be my role these days! Since the girls have been laying regularly (and Betty finally worked out the kinks and has been laying only fully shelled eggs for a week now), I've got lots of eggs to spare. Despite the fact that I did some baking Sunday morning, ate 3 eggs for lunch on Monday (scrambled with fresh dill and some cream cheese for extra creaminess….yum), and used a couple eggs Monday night while making salmon patties, I still can't keep up with them.

Yesterday I shared 4 eggs with my friend Rachael and dropped off another 4 with Jamie at Stitch n' Bitch. Jamie doesn't eat eggs (is she crazy???!!) but she loves to bake, so hopefully she can make something nice with them. Of course there was some discussion of chickens and chicken tending at SnB then.

Today has been a busy day at our house, and I've been presented with plenty of opportunities to spread the chicken/poultry bug on to others, too. The soil for my raised beds was delivered this AM, and we're also having some minor patching and weather-proofing done to the house. I spent some time conversing with the landscaper (who had been looking forward to seeing the chickens) and her helpers about the joys of keeping chickens and the ins and outs of doing so in Chicago. I also gave the landscaper all three of the eggs layed today, right out of the nest box. She seems to be really considering getting some chickens or maybe a couple ducks now. The handyman and his helper asked me about the chickens, too, and seem intrigued by them.

Yep, just call me the chicken evangelist of Chicago!

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Just like jelly

I found a "softie" in the Eglu today.

 

I'm thinking this is Selma's since the other egg in the nestbox had a darker brown shell, and Maisy usually lays the eggs with the darker shells.

 

This egg was on the floor of the Eglu. It had obviously been laid on the roosting bars (which Selma has done before) and then slipped through. The contents were perfectly intact, but the membrane was a bit gritty and dirty.

While I was showing it to Mark this evening, the dogs took a keen interest in it. I made mistake of holding it out so they could sniff it and then quick as can be Sadie nipped the top off! Hannah got a lick in before Sadie moved in for final gulp and swallowed the rest. Well, I had thought of giving it to the dogs, and I guess this settled it!

It's perfectly normal for pullets to lay these soft eggs every once in a while. I'm just glad that it didn't break or get broken in such a way that the chickens would get a taste of it. Sometimes chickens get a taste for their own eggs and will eat them before collection.

Luckily, my girls don't seem so inclined. They'd rather that I bring them more fishy stuff like the salmon skin from our poached salmon. Yep, they eat just about everything!

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More eggy goodness

Shortly after I came home tonight, I let the pullets out to graze in the yard and checked the nest box. Look what I found today.

 

In the front is Selma's first egg. Hooray for Selma! Maisy's fifth egg is the dark one in the back. So, it was a two-egg day on September 12, 2007.

Maisy is producing one egg a day, and she is clearly still "calibrating the system." Out of 5 eggs, one was quite large and had a double yolk. The rest have ranged in size from small to medium.

 

Seen here from top to bottom are Maisy's first, second and third eggs. On the right at bottom is an egg from the last dozen I bought at the farmers market a couple weeks ago. That third egg was the double-yolker. Rachael and I ate them for dinner Monday night. We sauted a bunch of swiss chard in some garlic-enhanced chicken broth, then added the eggs on top, a la Barbara Kingsolver's Eggs in a Nest recipe. Yum!

I couldn't resist taking a little video of "the layers."

 

 

Maisy and Selma are now extremely focused on eating as much protein as they can get. They spent their entire time outside the run scratching for insects. I guess once they start laying they become voracious!

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Happiness is…

A warm, brown egg.

 

I have no idea exactly when this was laid, but it was sometime today. I've been checking the nest box every day and didn't find any eggs yesterday.

This morning, I got up a little later than usual (about 7 AM) and started the usual chores: let out dogs, collect feeding/watering gear and head outside to let out chickens. I didn't check the nest box right away. I was planning to clean out the coop today, so I thought I'd wait to open the door over the nest box. It was about 9:30 AM by the time I finally got around to opening up the nest box door, and there it was. It surprised the heck out of me.

It has to be Maisy that's laying. She looks the most mature with a better developed comb and wattles and more ginger colored plumage than the other pullets. Yesterday afternoon, I also noticed that she was doing a bit of "crouching" for me, too. She didn't get flustered at all when I reached out to pet her, and she crooked out her wings a bit and sort of squatted a bit.

The others can't be too far behind. In a couple weeks, I should be getting 3 eggs a day. Urban chickens rock!!

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