Harvest is in full swing, which means my canning and fermenting supplies dominate my mudroom and my refrigerator is packed with produce waiting to be preserved. But after the successful launch of my pickling cookbook, The Complete Guide to Pickling, last fall, I’ve made time for some recipes that make minimal use of my homegrown produce, including pickled eggs.
We have a rich supply of eggs on the farm where I garden. As I created pickled egg recipes for my cookbook, I fell in love with the rich colors of brine-infused egg whites against bright orange yolks. Since then, I’ve been playing with all sorts of brines—reused from other pickles and made from scratch—to produce a range of colors and flavors.
Pickled eggs keep and travel well, and we’ve been eating them regularly all summer. They have become staples for multiday cruises aboard The Blue Mule, and they make a great post-yoga snack or grab-and-go breakfast with the garden’s latest berries. I’ve learned a few tricks along the way that will help you when making pickled eggs.
Whether you’re making omelets or boiling eggs, studies have shown that free-range, pasture-raised chickens produce the best eggs. As a result, backyard chickens have become increasingly popular. If you’re not raising hens, it’s worth checking around your neighborhood, with friends, with coworkers, or with local farms to see if you can come up with a local fresh egg source.
Fresh eggs keep best if they’re unwashed. They’re naturally coated with a thin protective layer, called the cuticula, that protects them from bacteria and spoilage—just like your cuticles protect the area where your fingernails slip under your skin. If you’re planning to hard-boil and pickle them, you do want to keep them for a bit; freshly collected eggs can be challenging to peel. I have the best results if I store fresh eggs for at least 1 week before washing and boiling them.
I’ve also found that some chicken breeds produce eggs that are better for boiling and pickling. When you peel a hard-boiled egg, you find a white protein membrane between the shell and egg white, or albumen. Compared with store-bought eggs, our farm chickens have thicker shells, and even older eggs have membranes that tend to cling to the shells after they’ve been boiled, making them hard to peel. After boiling, I have the best luck peeling the speckled blue-gray eggs of the Barred Rock chickens. The reddish brown shells from the Rhode Island Reds can be hit or miss, but I almost always struggle to cleanly peel the light brown shells from hard-boiled Buff Orpington eggs.
The pickled egg equation has two parts: hard-boiled eggs plus vinegar brine. When I make egg brine from scratch, I use 3 parts vinegar (5% acidity) to 1 part water—higher than the 1:1 ratio I use for most vegetables. The main reason is that the pH of eggs is far higher than that of most vegetables. Eggs are also susceptible to many bacteria, so four practices help in ensuring food safety:
- Cook. Hard-boil the eggs. Save soft-boiling for breakfasts.
- Peel. Only pickle eggs that peeled cleanly, because exposed yolks can dissolve in the brine. Put any eggs with nicks and gouges to use in another recipe.
- Pickle. Keep the acid high in the brine. For the tenderest whites, heat the brine and then pour it over the peeled eggs.
- Store. Immediately refrigerate the pickled eggs, and keep them in the fridge until serving. Despite what you may see at a local bar, home-pickled eggs stored at room temperature are highly susceptible to botulism.
Some of the fun of pickled eggs is that they can adopt all sorts of brine—even leftovers from other pickles. When I made Taqueria Carrots from the Purple Dragon variety, the carrots’ purple skin leached all of its color into the brine. By repurposing that brine for hard-boiled eggs, I came up with lavender-colored eggs with a lovely jalapeno-based flavor. Just this week, I used the brine from a batch of smoked pickled red beets as the base for pickled eggs. After just a day, they’ve taken on a lovely crimson hue.
There are a few tricks to keep in mind when reusing brine. A few of these are also worth remembering if you’re making a fresh brine:
- Acid. Pickled eggs want a strong vinegar brine. If you’re reusing brine, it’s been diluted from the original recipe by the first round of fresh vegetables or fruits that were placed in it: Most fresh produce has a high water content, and the pickling process moves some of that water into the brine. To ensure your eggs pickle well and store safely, it’s easiest to use 1 part old brine to 3 parts vinegar (5% acidity).
- Flavor. A brine that had strong flavors from spices, garlic, and peppers can impart those into the eggs, but the taste can weaken with time. Adding a little of the original spice and aromatic blend to the pickled egg jar can bring the brine back to life.
- Color. A colorful second-life brine will spread that color to your eggs, but you can always add a bit more. Tossing a few pickled beets or fresh berries into the jar can add color, as can red hot sauce.
- Heat. Although it’s simplest to just toss the hard-boiled eggs into an old jar of brine, heating it up will keep the egg whites tender. The heat also gives any newly added spices a head start.
- Storage. A dozen eggs can pack into a quart jar, but sections of each egg will stay white where they pressed against one another or the jar walls. For even coloring, use fewer eggs per jar or repack it daily for the first few days, rotating the eggs in the space and using a light weight if necessary to keep them submerged.
Twice as Tasty
As I mentioned earlier, I often eat pickled eggs on their own, but there are many other ways to put them to use. I share some of my favorites in my e-book, The Pickled Picnic, including multiple variations on Deviled Pickled Eggs, Potato and Pickled Asparagus Salad, and a snack alongside a Briny Gibson. If you’re a vinegar fan like I am, you can consider substituting pickled eggs for standard hard-boiled ones in almost any recipe, from filling for Steamed Buns, to topping for Buckwheat Porridge with Mushrooms and Eggs, to an add-on for Spring Pasta and Fresh Mozzarella Salad.
Get fun recipes for pickled eggs plus other pickles, salsas, chutneys, and more in my cookbook, The Complete Guide to Pickling. Click here to order a personally signed, packaged, and shipped copy directly from me. I share tasty ways to use pickled eggs in The Pickled Picnic, a digital collection in an easy-to-read PDF format. It’s available exclusively through Twice as Tasty.