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‘How do you boil an egg?’ Why everyone’s asking Alexa, and the complicated answer

Earlier this month, Amazon Echo turned a year old. The retailer released a list of “fun facts” about Alexa, including that 500,000 people have said “I love you” to it (her?) and that the Echo has told 10 million jokes. But what really caught our attention is that the most popular cooking-related questions is, “How do I boil an egg?”

There are over 4 million results on Google, so it’s clearly a common query. It seems obvious enough, but actually, there are lots of answers, advice, and tricks out there to help you avoid over-cooking your eggs. You know that greenish tinge you sometimes see around the yolk? That’s means you’ve boiled them too long. There are also hints on making them as easy to peel as a clementine.

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Some people swear by poking a hole in the shell, adding salt to the water, or rigging a probe thermometer and timer (or connected-kitchen thermometer) to alert you when the water’s about to boil so they can cover the pot and remove it from the heat. To paraphrase, boiled egg recipes are like opinions — everyone’s got one.

That includes J. Kenji López-Alt, author of The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking through Science. Over at his Serious Eats Food Lab column, he says that after cooking dozens of eggs, he’s realized there’s no bulletproof method to getting it right all the time. But for him, putting eggs into already boiling water right out of the fridge works best. He lowers the heat to barely a simmer, then leaves them in there for 11 minutes for hard-boiled and six for soft. Then he puts them in ice water for 15 minutes if serving immediately. Instead of piercing a hole, he peels them under cold water.

The Science of Cooking site argues that while it’s harder to control how long an egg gets cooked when you add them to cold water, you run the risk of making the whites rubbery by adding them to boiling water. Instead, they argue that you should start with cold water, remove the pot from the heat when it starts to boil, then cover and cook for 25 minutes and shock them with cold water afterwards.

Basically, it’s no wonder so many people need Alexa’s help. (To hear what she has to say, listen to the clip above.) There’s no definitive answer, but there’s still several months before Easter to test out all these recipes.

Updated 11/30/2015: Updated to clarify part of López-Alt’s method of peeling eggs under cold water. 

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