How to boil an egg
The answer to this is carefully. Even the simplest of cooking demands a degree of care and attention. But in the end all it involves is first knowing the right way to proceed and then happily being able to boil perfect eggs for the rest of your life without even having to think about it.
What we need to do first of all, though, is memorise a few very important rules.
1. Don't ever boil eggs that have come straight from the refrigerator, because very cold eggs plunged straight into hot water are likely to crack.
2. Always use a kitchen timer. Trying to guess the timing or even remembering to look at your watch can be hazardous.
3. Remember the air pocket? During the boiling, pressure can build up and cause cracking. A simple way to deal with this is to make a pinprick in the rounded end of the shell, as left, which will allow the steam to escape.
4. Always use a small saucepan. Eggs with too much space to career around in and crash into one another while they cook are, again, likely to crack.
5. Never have the water fast-boiling: a gentle simmer is all they need.
6. Never overboil eggs (you won't if you have a timer). This is the cardinal sin because the yolks will turn black and the texture will be like rubber.
7. If the eggs are very fresh (less than four days old), allow an extra 30 seconds on each timing.
Soft-boiled eggs - method 1
Obviously every single one of us has a personal preference as to precisely how we like our eggs cooked. Over the years I have found a method that is both simple and reliable, and the various timings set out here seem to accommodate all tastes.
First of all have a small saucepan filled with enough simmering water to cover the eggs by about 1/2 inch (1cm). Then quickly but gently lower the eggs into the water, one at a time, using a tablespoon. Now switch the timer on and give the eggs exactly 1 minute's simmering time.
Then remove the pan from the heat, put a lid on it and set the timer again, giving the following timings:
6 minutes will produce a soft, fairly liquid yolk and a white that is just set but still quite wobbly.
7 minutes will produce a firmer, more creamy yolk with a white that is completely set.
Soft-boiled eggs - method 2
I have found this alternative method also works extremely well. This time you place the eggs in the saucepan, cover them with cold water by about 1/2 inch (1cm), place them on a high heat and, as soon as they reach boiling point, reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and give the following timings:
3 minutes if you like a really soft-boiled egg
4 minutes for a white that is just set and a yolk that is creamy.
5 minutes for a white and yolk perfectly set, with only a little bit of squidgy in the centre.
Some people hate soft-boiled eggs and like to eat them straight from the shell, hard-boiled. All well and good, but if you want to use hard-boiled eggs in a recipe and have to peel them, this can be extremely tricky if the eggs are too fresh. The number one rule, therefore, is to use eggs that are at least five days old from their packing date.
The method is as follows: place the eggs in a saucepan and add enough cold water to cover them by about 1/2 inch (1cm). Bring the water up to simmering point, put a timer on for 6 minutes if you like a bit of squidgy in the centre, 7 minutes if you like them cooked through.
Then, the most important part is to cool them rapidly under cold running water. Let the cold tap run over them for about 1 minute, then leave them in cold water till they're cool enough to handle - about 2 minutes.
Once you've mastered the art of boiling eggs you can serve them in a variety of ways, and one of my favourites is in a curry.
Peeling hard-boiled eggs
The best way to do this is to first tap the eggs all over to crack the shells, then hold each egg under a slow trickle of running water as you peel the shell off, starting at the wide end.
The water will flush off any bits of shell that cling on. Then back they go into cold water until completely cold. If you don't cool the eggs rapidly they will go on cooking and become overcooked, then you get the black-ring problem.
Quails' eggs for boiling should, again, not be too fresh, and these are best cooked by lowering them into simmering water for 5 minutes.
Then cool them rapidly and peel as above.
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