Breakfast for a Week for $4: Hard-Boiled Eggs

Hard-boiled eggs are an excellent and inexpensive breakfast food, especially if you know the best way to cook them.

childrens-book-humpty-dumptyI think most people like hard-boiled eggs, but the problem is doing the hard-boiling.  If you undercook them, they have a gooey or runny center, which is bad if that’s not what you want.*  If you overcook them, then they get that ugly greenish gray color around the center and they may have an “off” odor and unpleasant taste.  You have to cook them just the right amount, not too little, not too much.  It’s not easy to do.  For one thing, there’s no way you can measure what’s going on, cooking-wise, inside the egg.  The exterior of the egg doesn’t change color as it cooks.  It doesn’t feel any different if you touch it.  You can’t poke a meat thermometer into it.  However, the one thing you can measure is time, which goes a long way towards solving the egg-cooking problem, if you can keep the cooking temperature constant.

Measuring the length of time your eggs have been cooking only helps you if the temperature of the water around them is the same every time.  However, this is difficult to achieve.  You put water in a cooking pot, bring it to a boil and add the eggs.  Adding the cold eggs to the water immediately lowers the water temperature.  But by how much?  That depends on the quantity of boiling water you have, how cold the eggs are, and how many eggs you put into the pot.  One egg will lower the temperature of the water just a little.  Several eggs will lower the temperature quite a bit.  The more the water’s temperature is lowered, the longer it takes to return to a boil and the longer it takes the eggs to cook.  Another factor is the amount of heat being produced by the stove.  Is it the same every time?  All things considered, there’s a lot of temperature inconsistency from one egg-boiling session to another.  That means you don’t know how much heat is being transferred to the eggs, so you have no idea how of precisely how long you need to cook them.  Perhaps if you were careful to use exactly the same amount of water, in the same cooking pot, and the same number of eggs, and the same setting on the stove every time, you might, by trial-and-error, eventually determine the correct cooking time.  The same problems arise if you put eggs in pot of cold water and bring them to a boil.  How cold was the water to begin with?  How many eggs?  How hot is the stove?  Again, inconsistency, unless you carefully measure all of these things and experiment carefully.

Thankfully, there’s a much easier method that yields much better results, every time.

To give credit where it’s due, I believe this method was developed be the cooking experts at Cook’s Illustrated magazine.  It’s genius.

Basically, you put a steamer basket in your pot, fill it with water up to (but not above) the level of the basket’s bottom and bring the water to a boil.  Then put your eggs, making sure they’re not cracked or broken, straight from the refrigerator, into the basket.  Cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid.  Turn the heat down to medium-low, sufficient to maintain a slow boil.  Allow the eggs to cook in the steam, covered, for 12 or 13 minutes.  The exact cooking time will vary a bit, depending on the size of your eggs and how cold your refrigerator is, but this method is far superior to anything that involves eggs submerged in boiling water.

You should keep the pot covered the entire cooking time, but you might peek once to make sure the water hasn’t boiled away.  If your lid fits tightly, this shouldn’t be a problem.  After the time has elapsed, carefully transfer the eggs to a bowl of cold water and ice and allow them to cool for 10 minutes.  Store in the refrigerator and use as needed.

The beauty of this method is that the cold eggs are not submerged in the water, so they don’t reduce the water temperature.  The water keeps boiling as you add the eggs to the basket.  Therefore, there’s plenty of steam, and the temperature of the steam stays constant, something very close to the temperature of boiling water.  By keeping the eggs out of the water, most of the variables are eliminated.  One great thing about this method is that it works equally well with just a couple eggs or as many as can fit in the basket under the lid.  I usually cook 10 eggs on Sunday and eat 2 each morning during the M-F workweek.  Given that eggs cost around $3 (or less) per dozen, $4 per week allows boiled eggs, maybe a piece of toast, and perhaps an avocado once in a while!  Avocado-Egg Toast!  Mmmmmm!

Compare this to the cost of getting a breakfast sandwich at a fast-food place.  That could easily be $16 per week.  Cooking your own eggs means $12 per week saved.  $12 × 50 weeks per year = $600 per year.  If you’re not putting 10% (or more) or your income into your retirement savings accounts, here’s something that can move you toward that goal.  (Your savings might be even more if you eliminate the temptation to buy more than just a sandwich at the fast-food place.  Make your own tea or coffee and you’ll save more.

* I like soft-boiled eggs just fine, but I like them only if they’re served hot.  The steam-cooking method also works for soft-boiled eggs.  If you want soft-boiled eggs, reduce the cooking time to about 7 minutes for very soft or 9 minutes for medium-soft.


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