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.
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 (or the right sized saucepan depending on how many eggs you need) filled with enough water to cover the eggs by about 1cm.
Bring it up to the boil and when large bubbles are breaking on the surface quickly but gently lower the eggs (from room temperature) 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.
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 method is as follows: place the eggs into a saucepan that is the right size so that they sit comfortably and don’t crash into one another (and as an extra precaution, to prevent cracking you can prick the round end of the shell with a pin) and then add enough cold water to cover them by about 1cm.
Bring the water up to boiling point then turn to a simmer, 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. As soon as they are cooked drain off the hot water.
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.
This rapid cooling helps to prevent dark rings forming between the yolk and the white.
To peel them crack the shells all over on a hard surface. Then peel the shell off starting at the wide end.
After peeling rinse again in case there are any bits of shell still clinging.
Once you've mastered the art of boiling eggs you can serve them in a variety of ways.
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.