So You Think You Know How to Boil an Egg?

“Messer Lorenzo…. believes that those who have mastered the art of egg-boiling…are useful and worthy creatures. And because Messer Lorenzo believes that egg-boiling, let alone more complicated operations, are mysteries akin to Our Lady’s impregnation…should the man who boils Messer Lorenzo’s eggs deign to add, shall we say, something truly miraculous, such as salt and pepper, Messer Lorenzo might well take that man to be a genius. A Petrarch of the culinary arts, perhaps?”

Philip Kazan, Appetite

Anyone who considers boiling an egg to be an exact science or even easy should think again.

There are so many variables – the size of the eggs, their freshness, their temperature, the altitude, and individual perceptions about the exact moment of boiling, so say nothing of the patience to keep watching for it. There are a number of methods and each have their advantages. For all of them though:

  • If the eggs are less than four days old allow an extra 30 seconds
  • Leave an extra minute for high altitude
  • The eggs should be at room temperature (you don’t need to keep eggs in the fridge in any case)
  • The water should just cover the eggs
  • Don’t forget the salt
how to boil an egg

How to boil an egg: Method Zero – the Oliver Strachey method

“It was Oliver Strachey, one of Lytton’s brothers, who first told me that a boiled egg should never be boiled….’No’ he said, ‘keep the water just below a simmer, never let it boil’. I went home and tried this out and found it a revelation. The eggs were indeed cooked but their texture now was between jelly and cream: the yolks soft but liquidly firm, and the white had no trace of rubberiness”

“..I must append a very special note for my American friends, who have a compulsion to put eggs and even cheese into the venerated refrigerator – that denaturising box. Make sure your eggs have been at least six hours at room temperature before you cook them.”

Paul Roche, Cooking with a Poet

Although the best method, this approach is not nearly as defined as it seems. The problem arises from the missing two or three minutes between the water definitely simmering and its arrival at a rolling boil – this period is very subjective. There are variations between the heating ability of hobs, and with individual perceptions of the exact moment of ‘real’ simmering. You need to be consistent, always use the same saucepan and fill it to the same height. Use the same type and size of egg from the same supplier. If you want to try this method this is what I would suggest.

How to boil an egg: Method One – Saucy Dressings’ method

  1. Bring the eggs to room temperature – for – as Strachey suggests – at least six hours.
  2. Put in a saucepan carefully and over with cold water. How to tell if an egg is fresh: if it lies on its side on the bottom of the saucepan it is fresh; if it sits vertically, pointy end up, it is less fresh; if it floats, throw it away.
  3. Bring to the simmering point. On my aga this takes about six minutes…. Small bubbles are rising regularly to the surface.
  4. It then takes about three minutes… but this is subjective, see above… to get to a rollicking rolling boil.
  5. At this stage take it off the heat and cover it for either three minutes for a cooked-through white and a wholly liquid yolk, or four minutes for a yolk half still liquid and the other half solid but not lighter-coloured and dry.
how to boil an egg
a cooked-through white and a wholly liquid yolk

How to boil an egg: Method Two – the Delia Smith method

Delia Smith was famous for her boiled egg technique. It’s a sort of compromise between the easy drop-in-wildly-boiling water method which has easy timing but results in a rubber egg and Oliver Strachey’s perfect technically, but in practice somewhat hit and miss method described above. Again, she recommends getting the eggs to room temperature.

  1. Don’t allow the water to get to a rollicking boil, but ‘large bubbles should be breaking on the surface regularly’
  2. Lower the eggs carefully into the water and simmer for one minute only
  3. Remove from the heat, cover, and leave for either six minutes for a cooked-through white and a wholly liquid yolk, or seven minutes for a yolk half still liquid and the other half solid but not lighter-coloured and dry
how to boil an egg
a yolk half still liquid and the other half solid but not lighter-coloured and dry

How to boil an egg: Method Three – the high-tech method

The Perfect Egg Timer is an app which calculates the boiling time for eggs, adapted to take into account altitude (it works out where you are by GPS – scary) and the size of the egg. It works that out because the screen of your mobile can measure the egg.  The app also takes into account the temperature (whether you’ve just taken it out of the fridge or not). These timings are based on lowering the egg into boiling water and leaving it there.

Music to listen to as you boil your breakfast egg

Morning, by Peer Gynt

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