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A devil of a dilemma for good eggs

(ran TNP edition)

It might seem simple to produce a hard-boiled egg, but the experts don't agree on the best method.

Start in cold water? Start in hot water? Simmer the whole time? Bring to a boil and then let the pot stand off the heat? Prick the shells before cooking?

The one thing everyone agrees on is don't overcook the eggs. That's what produces the greenish-black ring around the yolks and makes them hard to mash if you're planning to indulge in the best use of hard-boiled eggs: deviled eggs. Most authorities also agree that very fresh eggs are harder to peel but that this isn't an issue unless eggs are bought directly from the farm.

Some cooks say pricking the large end of the egg, where there's an air pocket, will prevent cracking, but the American Egg Board advises against this because it could introduce bacteria inside the shell.

Food scientist Shirley O. Corriher advises against adding vinegar to the cooking water but says a little salt in the water may help the egg whites coagulate faster to seal cracks.

Remove the eggs from the refrigerator about a half-hour before you plan to cook them. If you haven't done this, starting the cooking in cold water will help bring them up to temperature gently and minimize cracking.

Corriher also says that if you want the yolks to be centered in the whites, you should place the egg carton on its side, tightly closed (you can seal it with tape), in the refrigerator the night before cooking.

When it comes to cooking method, the authorities I trust most, Corriher and Cook's Illustrated magazine founder/editor Christopher Kimball, differ slightly in their findings.

Corriher prefers to start the eggs in cold water, bring them to a boil and remove them from heat for a 15-minute standing period.

Kimball's tests, contrary to conventional wisdom, found that dropping the eggs in boiling water and continuing to boil for 10 minutes produced just as good a result as gentle heat, and he prefers this method as being easier to time.

You won't go wrong, however, with the instructions from the American Egg Board (www.aeb.org). This is the method favored by Debbie Moose, author of Deviled Eggs (Harvard Common Press, $12.95; 96 pages):

1. Place eggs in single layer in saucepan. Add enough tap water so it's at least 1 inch above the eggs.

2. Cover; bring quickly to boil over high heat. Watch carefully; as soon as the water comes to a rolling boil, turn off heat. Remove pan from burner if necessary to prevent further boiling.

3. Replace cover and let eggs stand, covered, for 15 minutes for large eggs (12 minutes for medium, 18 for extra-large).

4. Immediately pour off hot water and run cold water over eggs, or place them in ice water until completely cooled.

5. To remove shell, crackle it by gently tapping it all over on a hard surface (Corriher and others suggest the alternative of shaking the eggs back and forth against each other in the pan). Then roll egg between hands to loosen shell and start peeling at large end. Hold egg under cold running water to help ease off shell.

Here are some other tips:

+ In mashing the yolks, the most important factor is to make sure they aren't overcooked. The simplest method _ and the one preferred by cookbook author Moose, after preparing some 350 eggs for her book _ is to use a fork in a bowl.

+ If you are cooking the eggs ahead of time, you can leave hard-cooked eggs in their shells for refrigerator storage, though it is a little more difficult to peel them later. Seal the eggs in a plastic bag to keep them from absorbing odors while refrigerated.

+ You can pipe the filling into the whites using a pastry bag with a fancy tip or a simple plastic sandwich-type bag with one corner snipped. Author Moose has a good tip for transporting deviled eggs: Put the filling in a sealable plastic bag and carry the whites separately; when you're ready to serve, snip the corner of the bag and fill the eggs. You could carry garnishes in another plastic bag.

+ Moose thinks the eggs are better the day after cooking, when the flavors in the filling have had time to meld.

Dijon-Deviled Eggs

6 hard-boiled eggs

2 tablespoons mayonnaise

1{ teaspoons Dijon mustard

1 green onion, very thinly sliced (slice a little of the green and keep separate from white)

A few leaves of fresh flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped

Freshly ground black pepper

Salt, to taste

Paprika, optional

Halve or quarter eggs; scoop yolks into a small bowl. Mash well; add mayonnaise and Dijon until desired consistency is reached. Stir in white part of sliced onion and most of the chopped parsley. Taste; add salt and pepper to taste. Using a small teaspoon or pastry bag, fill egg white halves or quarters. Sprinkle with sliced green onion and remaining parsley. Sprinkle with a little pepper and/or paprika, if desired.

Makes 12 halves, 24 quarters. Recipe can be doubled.

Source: www.about.com.

Curried Shrimp Deviled Eggs

6 hard-boiled eggs

1{ teaspoon mayonnaise

1{ teaspoon Miracle Whip brand salad dressing

{ teaspoon curry powder

3 green onions, finely minced

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

{ cup small cooked shelled shrimp

Peel eggs and slice in half lengthwise. Remove yolks. In small bowl, mash yolks; add mayonnaise, salad dressing, curry powder, green onions, salt and pepper; mix well. Gently fold in shrimp. Spoon into egg white shells and serve immediately or refrigerate.

Makes 12 deviled eggs.

Source: www.cooksrecipes.com.

Deviled Eggs With Caviar

12 large eggs, at least a week old

1 tablespoon salt and 1\ teaspoons salt (about 1{ tablespoons total)

3 medium shallots, minced

2 tablespoons butter

{ cup sour cream

cup homemade mayonnaise or store-bought

[ teaspoon cayenne

\ cup finely chopped fresh chives

Finely grated zest of 3 lemons

3 tablespoons red caviar, well chilled

Place eggs in medium saucepan. Add water to cover by 1{ inches. Add 1 tablespoon salt. Partially cover pan and bring to full rolling boil. Turn heat down to low and leave on, covered, for 30 seconds.

Remove from heat and let eggs stand, covered, in hot water for 15 minutes. Pour off hot water and rinse eggs under cold running water for 5 minutes.

Pour off water and shake pan to bump eggs against each other until all eggs are well-cracked. Cover with cold water.

Peel eggs under running water, rinse them and cut in half lengthwise. Transfer yolks to a bowl. Cover and chill yolks and whites separately for 1 hour.

Saute the shallots in butter in medium skillet over medium-high heat until soft, about 2 minutes. Set aside. Mash yolks with a fork. Mash in the sour cream. Add the mayonnaise, 1{ teaspoons salt and cayenne.

Whisk until well-blended. Whisk in shallots.

Fill egg white halves with yolk mixture, extending the mixture over part of the white. Generously sprinkle each stuffed egg with chives, leaving a little yellow showing around the edges.

Sprinkle each half with lemon zest. Cover and refrigerate.

When ready to serve, spoon a bit of cold caviar onto each half. Serve well chilled.

Makes 10 to 12 servings.

Source: "Cookwise" by Shirley O. Corriher (William Morrow, $30; 534 pages).

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