I've lived on the west side of Denver pretty much all of my life, and I don't really think of myself as living "at altitude." I mean, Denver is known as "The Mile High City" because we're a mile above sea level (well, 5462 ft. at my house according to Google Earth).
It comes in handy for psyching out opposing football teams, but other than that, it's not something I give much thought to.
That is, until it comes to cooking. You know, for years I just thought that people who wrote cookbooks were either crazy or overly optimistic in terms of the suggested cooking times. "Bake for 20-25 minutes" Ha! If it says that, I generally check it at 40 minutes and often it takes an hour to cook fully.
It didn't really occur to me that this might have something to do with the altitude. I mean, if your're baking at 350 degrees, it ought to work the same way, right? The oven isn't any cooler than it would be at sea level, but for some reason it doesn't work that way.
For the non-scientifically inclined out there - there's less air pressure at higher altitudes, so water (and everything else) boils at a lower temperature - which wreaks havoc on cooking instructions that were written for people living at sea level.
I guess baking is a complicated process and the boiling point of water must figure into the equation somehow.
So, last week the big health headline in the news was the new FDA guidelines about acrylamides. In case you don't subscribe to "news for the paranoid" acrylamides are a chemical substance that is formed when high starch foods are cooked at high temperatures. The browner and crispier it gets, the more acrylamides it contains.
Anyhow, acrylamides have been shown to be carcinogenic so the FDA is now recommending that people try to reduce their exposure.
Mostly they occur in processed foods like french fries and other high carbohydrate snack foods that are fried or cooked at high temperatures, but they also show up in coffee & nuts (formed when the beans/nuts are roasted) and any carbohydrate rich food that is baked, broiled or fried.
So it got me to thinking that I do have a tendency to fry things more than is probably healthy. I don't mean deep fat frying or anything... just stovetop cooking, but still... In fact, one of my favorite breakfasts is fried eggs with home fried potatoes.
So I started thinking that perhaps I should try boiling the potatoes instead. And even though eggs are not a food that forms acrylamides, it's still probably healthier to boil them than it is to fry them.
Thus began my quest to see if I could create a soft boiled egg. When I lived in Norway people ate soft boiled eggs all the time... they even had these cute little egg cups and you'd just peel the top of the egg and then scoop it out with a spoon... yum!
Anyhow, the standard rule that it says in cookbooks is that a soft boiled egg should take 3 minutes. Figuring this would never work here in Denver, I started at 6.
For the sake of consistency, I took the eggs directly from the fridge and dropped them into the boiling water (with a little pin hole poked on each end to keep it from splitting.)
At six minutes the eggs were decidedly runny. The yokes were completely liquid and the whites were solid on the outside but runny closer to the middle.
I kept upping the time and finally this morning I believe I hit upon the magic number! Here's my 8.5 minute egg! Woo Hoo!
So I'm curious... how long does it take things to cook where you live?