How do you store eggs at sea?
It’s the question I get asked the most.
You do not need to refrigerate eggs: The United States is the exception rather than the rule. Most countries don’t refrigerate eggs in the store. In nature the birds actually keep the eggs warm to incubate them. It would be counterproductive if the egg went bad before it could hatch, right?
Eggs have natural defenses against the bacteria that make eggs go off. By following a few simple rules you can keep your eggs for well over a month.
Buy unrefrigerated eggs: It can be difficult to find unrefrigerated eggs. Even at farmers markets eggs are often refrigerated on the way to be sold. Unfortunately once food has been refrigerated it doesn’t last as long if you take the temperature up. It is definitely possible to keep eggs that have been refrigerated at room temperature; they just will not last quite as long as ones that haven’t been.
Buy unwashed eggs: When the egg is laid it has a protective coating on it. This natural sealant prevents oxygen or bacteria from getting inside the shell which is what makes the egg go bad. Unwashed eggs may look a little dirty. Okay, some may look completely disgusting with dirt, bird poo, or other grossness on them. However, this is actually better. If you are really grossed out by it then you can wash the eggs yourself just before using them.
Buy the freshest eggs possible: Duh, right? Something that has been sitting on a shelf for weeks won’t last as long as something completely fresh. Grocery stores unfortunately are not the best place to find fresh eggs. That said, getting in touch with local farmers is almost impossible when you are cruising and unless you know the farmer you can’t be certain how fresh the eggs really are.
Vaseline: If you can’t find unwashed eggs (and let me tell you, it’s a challenge in the United States) then you need to simulate the protective coating. A very thin layer of Vaseline or petroleum jelly is cheap and works wonderfully. That said, you can use any type of sealant. I have heard coconut or vegetable oil works well too, but I think it might be a little thin.
The other problem with unwashed eggs is that they are probably from a privately owned farm. This is wonderful for the chickens, the taste of the eggs, and the freshness. However, these eggs will undoubtedly be more expensive and chances are it will be difficult to buy enough for a long passage.
Going through the eggs some of them will probably have compromised spots. Some might be cracked, others may have spider-web marks that indicate the shell may be weaker. Even if the egg is slightly cracked you do not need to throw it away. Just be sure to put them into a smaller container and use them within a day or two.
Flip the eggs: To prevent the yolk from settling and sticking to the shell it is important to turn the eggs every 2-3 days. You don’t have to turn each individual egg. Just flip the package. I am (horrors) keeping the eggs in the original cardboard container and just flipping that every few days. I know I shouldn’t, but I’m not sure what else to keep them in.
Freezing eggs: It is possible to freeze eggs if you have enough freezer space. I’m not a huge fan of this method. If the freezer lets the eggs unfreeze then they go bad in less than a week. In my experience even without complete thaw, the yolk runs into the white and the consistency changed.
But how should you store eggs at sea?
These are the best tried-and-true methods of keeping eggs “fresh” at sea. These aren’t hard and fast rules. By no means do you have to follow them all. What I generally do is to buy eggs in a grocery store use Vaseline and turn them every 3 days. In other countries I try to buy eggs at markets. Even when I buy unwashed eggs in foreign countries I coat them in Vaseline.
One boat I crewed on we didn’t bother to put Vaseline on the eggs and they went bad in a week! There is a reason rotten eggs have a bad reputation. It really is the worst smell in the world.
The last time I left the States, we bought 15 dozen eggs from Costco. Refrigerated, washed, and surely not the freshest eggs, time, price, and convenience were the main factors. Still coated in Vaseline and flipped every few days it was 5 weeks before any of them went off. Considering you can buy eggs in most places I don’t think I’ll need them to last much longer than that.
In a perfect world I would buy the freshest, unrefrigerated, unwashed eggs. But it is a balance. You may not have all the time in the world, unlimited amounts of money, or even a car. The bottom line is that you have to do what’s comfortable for you. Weigh how much time going to organic farms will take and how much it will cost vs the convenience factor. How much freezer space, time, money, and how much you like eggs. Whatever the case, keeping eggs for long passages at sea is more than possible.
Just remember, after about a month make sure to check your eggs often and throw bad ones away if there are any. Also be sure to crack each egg into a small bowl before transferring it to whatever you plan to use it in. You do not want to spoil an entire dish with one bad egg.
Somehow I am reminded of the old egg commercials. I can’t fight it any longer. I have to end this entry with their tag line: the incredible edible egg!