Much to my surprise, the most downloaded ‘how to’ video on the web is how to boil an egg*. Who needs a video? I’ll explain right here in a few easy steps.
I boiled dozens, if not hundreds of eggs for my original cookbook How to Eat Well and Stay Single. I phoned my sister, a much better cook than I, for some tips and asked around my friends for their ideas. Turns out there are dozens of best ways to boil an egg: I tried them all. After the odyssey, I couldn’t look a boiled egg in the face for years. Then I had to write chapters on poached eggs, fried eggs and omelettes. Now a few decades later, high cholesterol has kicked in and I’m limited to just a couple of eggs, any style, per week.
Well, why waste all that research? Here’s what I wrote long ago and it still all applies.
Soft boiled eggs
Start with fresh eggs, yes really fresh eggs, preferably from a supplier who offers free-run eggs or even better still free-range eggs. Hens who run around in an open pen, scratching for grain and grubs in the dirt, indubitably lay better eggs.
Note, the fresher the eggs the longer they take to cook. As well, be sure your eggs are as close to room temperature as possible. It’s quite safe to leave them out overnight – nature’s packaging is perfect. If you have trouble with eggs cracking, try adding salt to the water. If that isn’t enough, make a small hole in the roundest end of the egg with a pin or needle. This will relieve the pressure from the air that collects in a bubble at that end of the egg.
Place the required number of eggs into cold water so they are completely submerged. Add salt to the water if necessary. Put the uncovered saucepan on high heat and bring to the boil. This will take from five to 10 minutes, depending on the size of the pan and the number of eggs. Then remove the pan from the heat and cover. Let it sit for two to four minutes, depending on how soft you prefer your eggs, drain and serve. Typically two minutes will produce an egg that has a set white and a quite runny yolk, three will be a soft yolk and four will be a firm yolk.
This method makes the most perfect, tender soft boiled eggs with the whites set properly and the yolks still soft. Serve in an egg cup with buttered toast ‘soldiers.’
Wikipedia, while confirming that the Brits call thin, crustless slices of buttered toast ‘soldiers’ offers no explanation of where they came by the name. Common sense would suggest they look like soldiers on parade.
Hard boiled eggs
These are made the same way as hard boiled eggs, but after taking the pan from the heat and covering, leave it sitting for 20 minutes. As soon as time is up, drain the eggs and run them under cold water, or dunk them in a bowl of ice cubes and water. This will halt the cooking process and you’ll avoid dark rings around the yolks. The eggs will be tender and not tough and rubbery.
If you have an egg poacher, one of those special little pans where shallow cups are suspended over boiling water, just spray some Pam or wipe some soft butter into each cup, bring the water to the boil, break an egg into each cup, cover and cook until done, about five minutes. Then, slide them out of the cups onto hot buttered English muffins, toast or whatever you prefer.
However, if you’re like most of us and don’t have a poaching gadget, there is a foolproof trick to making poached eggs in a frying pan. Fill the pan with water and bring it to the boil, then turn the heat down to medium so the water is barely forming bubbles. Add a tablespoon of white vinegar to the water. Break the first egg into a shallow saucer, hold the saucer above the centre of the pan and slide the egg very carefully into the water, aiming towards the edge. You can do about four eggs at a time in a 10 inch pan, but any more gets a little messy with the white mingling. However bad the four eggs look, don’t touch the eggs until they have set. If you use vinegar and slide them in with a saucer, you’ll have no trouble getting them apart.
When the eggs are done, about five minutes, lift them out carefully with a slotted spoon or spatula. Press the spatula containing the egg down on a thick paper towel to drain the water off the egg. Serve as the centre piece in Eggs Benedict, Florentine or Royale.
Heat up a small dab of butter in a frying pan and when the butter is bubbling, break the egg carefully into it. Use the saucer trick if you tend to break the yolks. Reduce the heat immediately to medium or the bottom of the egg will get tough. Spoon hot butter over the top of the egg until the white is set and the yolk is filmed over. Lift out with a spatula and drain excess butter by briefly pressing it onto a folded paper towel, then slide onto a plate or a piece of toast.
For ‘sunny side up’ simply skip the spooning hot butter step. For ‘easy over’ flip the egg when it is almost set and fry the topside for no more than a minute.
Allowing two eggs per person, break the eggs directly into a cold pan, drop in a dollop of butter (for six eggs I’d use a tablespoon), add about ½ tablespoon of thick creamy milk per egg to replace moisture lost in cooking. Add a pinch of salt. Now put the pan on a gentle heat and start mixing the eggs with a whisk or wooden spoon. As the heat cooks the eggs, keep whisking or stirring gently to break the eggs into medium size curds, neither too large or too small. The butter will melt into the eggs along the way and the whole process shouldn’t take more than a couple of minutes. Whatever you do, don’t have the heat too high or you will burn the eggs on the bottom or overcook the eggs and turn them all rubbery. When the eggs are uniformly set, serve immediately or use with Eggs Portobello.
*Apparently the second most downloaded video is ‘how to fix a toilet.’ Now you know.
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