Huevos Haminados (Seven Hour Eggs)

We’ve all cooked a hard-boiled egg: simmer an egg eight to twelve minutes and you’re halfway to an egg salad sandwich. But what happens if you cook an egg for eight to twelve HOURS. It’s possible and the results are spectacular.

When it comes to Jewish food, one of the aspects I find most interesting is Sabbath cooking.  One of the prohibitions on the Sabbath, the holy day of Saturday, is lighting any kind of flame (there are 38 others).  That can make providing a hot meal on Saturday a rather difficult thing, especially for families living without modern conveniences or prior to the mid twentieth century.  

There are some clever loopholes: in the 19th century a fire lit in a cast-iron stove on Friday, before the start of the Sabbath at sundown, could be allowed to burn until the next day.  As a result, Jewish cultures developed a slow-cooked stew that could sit on the stove overnight: cholent for Ashkenazic Jews and hamin for Sephardim.  Sephardic Jews also developed another snack for Saturday:  huevos haminados. 

I stumbled across an essay by kitchen scientist Harold McGee on long-cooked eggs.  He offered a great paragraph on the cultural origins of the dish:

In his Sephardic Cooking, Copeland Marks reports having eaten ‘Jewish eggs’ among Calcutta Baghdadies, in Morocco, Tunisia, Turkey and Greece.  He gives a Spanish version via Salonica, huevos haminados, that calls for tea leaves, coffee grounds, and onion skins in the cooking water, as well as a bit of oil and vinegar.  The eggs are brought to a boil, then cooked over a low heat ‘for at least 5 hours, preferable 6’.  Marks notes that ‘…The longer one cooks them at a very low heat, the softer they become instead of the reverse….’The whites acquired a soft beige color…and the yolks are very cream and pale yellow.  The flavor is delicate and excitingly different from eggs cooked in any other way.” 

And in his seminal work On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, McGee adds this:

"During prolonged heating in alkaline conditions, the quarter gram of glucose sugar in the white reacts with albumen protein to generate flavors and pigments typical of browned foods (see the explanation of the Maillard reaction). The white will be very tender and the yolk creamy if the cooking temperature is kept in a very narrow range, between 160 and 165ºF/71–74ºC."

McGee tested the eggs at several temperatures and with different additives in the water.  He found that the whites of the eggs always turned a brownish color, whether or not they were cooked in plain water, or in water with other additives.  The egg proteins develop a nutty flavor and the egg itself becomes creamy.  If cooked with coffee and olive oil the nutty flavor of the egg would increase as well as dying the outer shell, while cooking with onion peels only dyed the shell but didn’t affect the flavor. 

I didn’t have the capabilities, or frankly the patience, to test this recipe as thoroughly as McGee did.  But I was curious what would happen if I dumped a half-dozen eggs into my slow cooker... 

 

The Recipe: Huevos Haminados (Seven Hour Eggs)

 
Directions

Gently places six eggs into a slow cooker.  Cover with water.  Set cooker on “low” for seven hours.

When seven hours is over, remove eggs from water with a slotted spoon.  Run cold water over them until they are cool enough to handle; I like to use a colander for this job.  Crack, peel, and serve warm.

The moment I cracked my slow-cooked eggs, my mind was blown.  The whites had turned a distinctly brown color.  My reaction may have been out of proportion with the event (I think I kept screaming at my roommate “It’s brown! It’s brown! It really worked!) but it really seemed like a magic trick of nature.  I had made magic. 

I took a bite: meat.  The egg tasted like a pot roast.  Closer to the yolk, I encountered the distinct, nutty flavor I had read about in McGee’s article.  Like hazelnuts and walnuts. My egg didn’t have a creamy texture, but I suspect they were a tad overcooked.

Brown. Meat. Egg.  Who would have expected that?

 

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