Over the years, I’ve tried almost ever method of hard cooking eggs: steaming, starting them in cold water, baking them in oven, even throwing them into boiling water. I still stand by steaming as a reliable method for perfectly hard cooked eggs that are relatively easy to peel, but recently I’ve taken to steaming the eggs in a pressure cooker for the easiest peeling I’ve ever experienced.
I realize that this method is nothing new to the interwebs, but I’ve been bothered by the various explanations I’ve found for the phenomenon. The general consensus is that the increase in atmospheric pressure inside the cooker forces the airspace inside the egg to expand. Any scuba diver who’s accidentally held his or her breath during an emergency ascent can attest to the fact that this makes no sense whatsoever. It’s just not how gases work. However, I do believe that pressure is a factor. As the temperature of the air inside the egg rapidly rises in the pressure cooker, it wants to expand and it makes sense that the increased atmospheric pressure (typically 7-8psi in most electric pressure steamers) prevents that air from escaping through pours in the shell. But even if pressure makes some difference, I don’t think it makes that much difference. Three other factors are of far greater importance in easy peelability:
- Age increases the size of the airspace as well as the pH of the eggs thus weakening the bonding power of the internal membranes. (The ideal pH is 8.6 to 8.9 which a typical chicken egg reaches about 10 days after being laid.)
- Eggs that are quickly heated are easier to peel than eggs that are slowly heated, say in cold water brought to a boil. Fast cooking prevents the white from bonding so epoxy-like to the outer membranes. Since pressure steamers can generate temperatures between 230 and 250 degrees F I suspect that this is actually why folks think they’re magic egg machines.
- Thorough cooling eases peeling by allowing the proteins in the albumen to fully set and harden, thus preventing tearing.
So do I like a pressure steamer for hard cooked eggs? I do. They’re fast, economical and they definitely heat eggs to a higher temperature than boiling water. But, they’re not magic and in the end you’re still better off letting your eggs age a few days before putting that cooker to the test.
- 12 large eggs
- 1 cup cool water
- Set the eggs on a steamer basket or a two-tiered Steel Lotus*. Pour the water into the electric pressure cooker and the steamer basket of eggs, secure the lid. Bring the pressure cooker to 'low' pressure over medium-high heat (a low hiss is a good indicator if your pot doesn't have a marker for 'low'. The pressure cooker will take about 7 minutes to come to pressure then set a timer for 6 minutes (so 13 minutes total cook time). Kill the heat and release the pressure on the cooker. (Most modern cookers use a sprig-loaded device and will feature a release switch/button.) If you don't want to wait, simply move the cooker to the sink and spray the lid and sides with cold water. Immediately plunge the eggs into an ice bath. Cool to the touch (at least 5 minutes, 20 is better) and peel.
- Set the eggs on a steamer basket or a two-tiered Steel Lotus. Pour the water into the electric pressure cooker and the steamer basket of eggs, secure the lid, close the pressure valve and set to 'steam' on low pressure for 6 minutes. The pressure cooker will take about 9 minutes to come to pressure then begin the count down from 6 minutes (so 15 minutes total cook time). Release the pressure valve until the cooker losses all pressure (about a minute) and immediately plunge the eggs into an ice bath. Cool to the touch (at least 5 minutes, 20 is better) and peel.
- Store peeled eggs covered in water to reduce the sulfur smell associated with boiled eggs.
- The famed and fabled "steel lotus" is basically what you get when you thread 3 collapsible metal steamer baskets onto a long piece of threaded stock from the hardware store. it's perfect for pressure steaming...as long as you don't make it too tall for your cooker.