You know how people say salt your pasta water so it tastes like the sea? And if you don't, no matter how much you salt your pasta sauce, you're sort of already screwed? Pickling eggs has a similar effect. You can add all the vinegar you want to your egg salad, but using pickled eggs will always be brighter and punchier.
But while eggshells adore natural dyes, egg whites are a bit more... how do we put this nicely... choosy. I tried pickling eggs with parsley, spinach, matcha, carrots, even Korean gochugaru—but all yielded a yellowish-grayish-brown shade of, well, eggshell.
That was before I hit on turmeric, beet, and red cabbage—all ingredients that leave pickled eggs with a vibrant color naturally—and they’re delicious to boot. That means you can showcase these eggs—which are zingy from their vinegar water bath (think your favorite quick-pickled carrot, only instead of a carrot, you’ve got an egg)—on the dining table instead of hiding them in your backyard.
Here’s how to naturally dye pickled eggs without a recipe:
1. Boil the eggs. Each batch of the master brine below will yield enough liquid to cover for four pickled eggs, but feel free to halve or double (or triple!), depending on how many bunnies are attending your Easter.
To start, fill a pot with cold water and set over high heat. Season with a pinch of salt, plus a splash of white vinegar (apple cider will work, too)—this makes the eggs easier to peel. Bring to a boil, then gingerly add the eggs with a spoon. Boil for 8 minutes. This creates an almost-gooey, half-baked yolk, which will begin to cure in the vinegar water solution. For a harder yolk, boil 1 to 2 minutes longer. (Of course, if you have another preferred method of hard-cooking eggs, you can go with that.)
Rinse under cool water and peel while warm. Or if you’d like the marbled effect, do not peel the eggs: Roll them on the surface so that the shell shatters but does not come away from the egg itself. Either way, you can proceed immediately to the brine or store in the fridge for a few days. A quick note: If you're using pre-boiled, dyed and shelled Easter eggs for your pickling project, just make sure you've used a food dye (food coloring works, or any of the all-natural kinds here) or non-toxic dye (like any of the ones here!) to do the job.
2. Make your mother brine. Combine all the following ingredients in a saucepan. Bring to a low simmer to dissolve the sugar and salt.
- 1 1/2 cups white vinegar (or swap out 1/2 cup for a flavorful addition like apple cider, rice, red, or white wine vinegar)
- 1/2 cup water
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
3. Now pick your color and your flavorings. Add them to the pot! You’re wondering if the color leads to flavor. The answer: Some more than others. In the case of the pink dye, the eggs will take on a distinctly beet-y taste. And while the purple eggs have notes of caraway, they’re not particularly cabbage-y. The yellow and orange dyes are the most subtle of the bunch, the flavor not far off from that of still-white pickled eggs.
When it comes to adding more flavor to your brine, pretty much all vinegar-pickle principles apply here: Whole spices are ideal, and for a brine this size, I’d recommend sticking with an amount between a teaspoon to a tablespoon, depending on how strong you’d like it. Try black or pink peppercorns, mustard seeds, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, caraway seeds, or red pepper flakes. You can also experiment with herbs and alliums: Dill would work beautifully here, tarragon would be nice in the more subtle orange brine, and a few slices of garlic clove wouldn't be out of place in any of the mixtures.
Add the ingredients for one color (these quantities correspond to one batch of the brine) and stir until saturated. Turn off the heat.
- 2 small beets, roasted, peeled, and quartered
- 2 star anise pods
- 2 teaspoons ground turmeric
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1 teaspoon ground mustard
Mix together the pink and yellow recipes and you yield the best of both worlds—a bright tangerine. Leave the beet in the brine for at least an hour, then check the color. The longer it sticks around, the rosier the brine will become. Bring the mixture back to a simmer before you pour it over the eggs.
- 2 teaspoons ground turmeric
- 2 chunks of roasted beet the size of wine corks
Red cabbage is the chameleon of the vegetable world. Boil it in water and you get a deep purple liquid. But play with the pH level (how basic or acidic the solution is) and you can go from blue to green to pink. Because pickle brine is vinegar-based, you need some baking soda to balance the solution from magenta to lavender. It will fizz and fuss, but that’s just right.
- 2 cups shredded red cabbage
- 1 tablespoon caraway seeds
- 2 3/4 teaspoons baking soda (or lower to 2 1/4 teaspoons for a more purply hue)
4. Dye. Place the eggs in a glass jar with a tight-fitting, good-sealing lid (those asparagus-sized mason jars work well). Pour the hot brine and its colorful add-ins on top. Secure the lid, then turn the jar upside down a couple of times to make sure the heat of the brine has touched all parts of the jar (and that every egg is fully submerged).
5. Choose your shade. The eggs’ saturation—and sourness—depends entirely on how long they bathe. You can remove them as early as an hour or leave them there for weeks. To create an ombré effect, with a gradient of shades, pull the eggs progressively.
If you’re eating the pickled eggs that day, you can keep them on the counter. But any longer than that, transfer them to the fridge (you'll want to let the jar plus its contents come to room temperature before placing it in the fridge—hot items in a cold fridge are a food-safety no-no, as they can bring down the temperature of the other things in there). Since the flavor and color will get more intense with time, I like to remove them from the brine within a week (but they will stay good for much longer than that if you keep them submerged).
6. Eat! If you’ve used ground spices in the brine, consider giving your eggs a quick rinse before digging in. Then, eat them as is or use them where you’d normally use hard- or soft-boiled eggs for a bright and punchy flavor base:
- Pink Deviled Eggs: Slice the eggs in half. Separate the yolks into a bowl and mix with mayonnaise, Dijon, paprika, and cayenne. Spoon or pipe back into the white nooks. Finely dice the beets and sprinkle on top. Garnish with flaky salt and a dill sprig.
- Yellow Curried Egg Salad: Dice or grate the eggs. Add mayonnaise, curry powder, and some chopped celery and scallion. Season with salt to taste. Serve with grainy toast, crackers, or cucumber slices.
- Orange Gribiche Carrots: Finely dice the eggs and mix with olive oil, Dijon, white wine vinegar, capers, sliced cornichons, and chopped parsley. Blanch and shock carrots (preferably small, newly harvested ones!) in salty water. Serve hot or cold with gribiche on top. (Gribiche is also excellent on top of asparagus or pasta.)
- Purple Breakfast Reuben: Melt lots of Swiss cheese on two pieces of rye bread. Sandwich together with thickly sliced eggs, the pickled cabbage, and Thousand Island dressing.
More ways to use those eggs:
Pickled eggs make an epic sandwich filling—and especially so in this recipe, where other sour, snappy stuff-ins abound. If it's too much "wham pow!", feel free to swap out one of the pickled vegetables with fresh, shaved one (or, keep 'em all in, and use those eggs you brined for just an hour).
Canned tuna and white beans get instantly zhuzhed up with a handful of torn fresh parsley and a sprinkling of dukkah, a Middle Eastern nut-and-spice blend. A jammy boiled egg or two—or, better yet, a couple sliced pickled eggs (the cabbage and caraway–scented kind work wonderfully here)—completes the picture, as does a big hunk of crusty bread.
Did you know you can devil pickled eggs? Indeed you can, and they're all the better for it. Here, in Virginia Willis' game-changing recipe (which instructs us to use regular boiled eggs, which you can switch out for pickled), yolks are scooped out and mixed with the usual suspects—plus a bonus ingredient to make them creamier and dreamier, with a little bit less of a vinegary bite (in a good way!). Can you guess what it is?
Eggs, meet bread (again). Here, crispy oil-brushed toasts are piled high with crunchy, slightly bitter radicchio, tender boiled eggs (but feel free to use pickled here, for a bit more of a bite), and chunks of creamy avocado to temper it all. A warm, anchovy-laden dressing brings it all together.