The History Dish: Seven Hour Eggs

Cooked at a long time for a low temperature, egg whites will turn brown!

We’ve all cooked a hard-boiled egg: simmer an egg eight to twelve minutes and you’re half way 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.

The History

I came across the concept of “long-cooked eggs” while doing research on Sephardic cuisine for the Lower East Side Tenement Museum as part of a program called “Meet Victoria. ”  In this program, visitors get a chance to interact with a costumed interpreter playing the role of a 14-year-old immigrant who lived on the Lower East Side in 1916.  Victoria, the girl in question, is Sephardic Jewish: sephard meaning “of Spain,” which is where Victoria’s ancestors lived until the Spanish Inquisition of 1492.  After leaving Spain, Sephardic Jews settled all around the Mediterranean, but much of the population ended up in Turkey.

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 makes providing a hot meal on Saturday a rather difficult thing, particularly in the 19th century.  But there were some clever loopholes: a fire lit 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.  (side note: baked beans, which traditionally cook overnight, were developed for the same purpose in American Christian culture, to save work on Sundays).

Sephardic Jews also developed another snack for Saturday:  huevos haminados.

Harold McGee and Long-Cooked Eggs

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.

Scienceey.  I didn’t have the capabilities, or frankly the patience, to test this recipe as throughly 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)

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 Results

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 because creamy.  Coffee and olive oil penetrate the egg-shell during cooking and increase the nutty flavor of the egg and also dye the outer shell, while onion peels only dye the shell but don not affect the flavor.

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 our 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?

19 Responses to “The History Dish: Seven Hour Eggs”

  • I have got to try this! I wonder what they’d taste like in an egg salad sandwich?

  • I was so intrigued by this, that I spend about an hour googling for additional information. Then, I made them today based on this recipe ( which calls for cooking the eggs 5 hours in the oven. I served them with an emulsion of olive oil, garlic, lemon, pepper, and fish sauce, and they were delicious! It was very exciting to reveal the carmel brown eggs! Tasted a lot like hard boiled eggs but also meaty and nutty just as you promised! Yay!

  • I am so glad this inspired you! I just read over the roasting method from North Africa; really interesting. And the egg-color-reveal is very exciting, and unexpected. It’s a simple dish that is simply amazing.

  • This is so fascinating and something I absolutely must try. I wonder if cooking them in the oven set on 160 would work as well?

    Off to to give this a go!

  • Great blog! Like you, I am from Cleveland, but of Slovenian-Scottish heritage, married to a Jewish man. Pretty steeped in Jewish cooking, but now exploring my Slovenian roots, cooking from vintage ethnic cookbooks. Just made a strange Slovenian egg dish and my husband said: “That tastes Jewish” and suggested I google “Jewish hard-boiled eggs.” So I ended up here. I have made huevos haminados before, but never cooked them quite this long. But now I am inspired :-)

    • The funniest part about moving from Cleveland to New York is that people kept giving me dishes that they said were “New York Jewish Food,” but were almost the same dishes as I had in Cleveland. Immigrants came from the same parts of the world, ate the same food, but had different religions. I think it’s cool!

  • I must try this, could give it a go this Sunday.

  • This is so fascinating! I really would love to try them! Thanks for submitting the information, Sarah!

  • My Sephardic grandmother would make these eggs at Passover time and serve them – sliced in half with lemon – at the Seder. During Passover, we would use an egg slicer on the eggs and then lay the slices in a pan with butter melted in it, warm the slices on both sides and serve for breakfast. Delicious!

  • The Chinese have a similar dish called ancient eggs .The difference is that the eggs are cooked with black tea and star anise . The shells are cracked a bit after cooking , then they are allowed to stand and mellow out for awhile , usually served cold .They too are very good .

  • This is a very common item at Korean bath houses. The eggs really do taste 10x better this way. You can do them the long way in a slow cooker or do it in 30 minutes in a pressure cooker. Mom even used to do it in a rice cooker.

  • I came across your article while trying to find out if the eggs I had just boiled (for way longer than necessary — I got distracted) were brown because I had boiled them too long or if they were bad. I ate one and it was a little different, but definitely not bad, but I still wanted to check so I could explain to my 90-year-old mother that they were OK.
    All the better that these are Jewish eggs, because we are about to make “salt water,” a family recipe from my mother’s Polish-born mother, for Passover. That involves about 10 chopped hard boiled eggs, one large chopped onion, salt and pepper, and water. (We always use the same blue ceramic pot, so I have no idea how much water, just enough to fill the pot.) Refrigerate and serve cold. It is better the second day. So this year we will use Sephardic eggs for an Ashkenazi recipe.

  • I’m wondering why some people add oil abd/vinegar. Don’t thing my mom ever did. Onion skins, definitely. ..

  • Now you can eat in in instant pot in High pressure for 1 hour and a half… boom! There I have your brown egg!!! We called it sauna egg!

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