Chefs say that cooking eggs is a good judge of technical skill in the kitchen. Have you noticed this? In every chef interview that I read (which is a lot of them) if the subject turns to judging cooking skills, the benchmark is almost always eggs. And while I wonder sometimes whether in practice eggs cookery is used to judge new chefs, there’s no doubt that the idea makes sense. Eggs are surprisingly difficult to cook well and there are hundreds of ways to do it – and as a result hundreds of ways to do it wrong. Plus everyone has their preference for how any given egg dish should taste; runny yolks or firm, large or small curds in a scramble, French- or American-style omelettes, and those are just the basics.
Over the years I’ve slowly learned how to make eggs well. It started with omelettes (French style please), which admittedly Jeff is much more accomplished at making than I am. Years of flipping, dropping eggs on the floor, trying again. Then I moved on to scrambled eggs, trying different methods and styles until I settled on a favorite (medium curds while Jeff prefers smaller curds). And there are always over-easy fried eggs, added to leftovers or morning oatmeal. They were our staple for years, along with the greasy pan that came along with them. But more recently I’ve moved from the fry pan, conquering the perfect soft-boiled egg with the help of the Ivan Ramen cookbook.
Ramen is the most common place to find a soft-boiled egg and it was in a bowl that I first had one, with the soft yolk melting into the hot soup. The first time we tried to make them at home we ended up with half-cooked whites that wouldn’t peel. They were inedible. But the second time, and every time after that, it’s been perfect. Soft-boiled eggs are an easier version of poached eggs – runny yolk, just barely cooked white, and none of the odd shapes I inevitably end up with when trying to poach an egg. Now if only I could master the hard-boiled egg.
* For those who are curious, the delicious bowl of food under that lovely egg is a riff on this recipe substituting cabbage for bok choy.
- Up to 4 eggs
- Water for boiling and ice water for cooling
- BOIL a pot of water on medium-high heat, big enough so that when the eggs are placed in it they will be completely covered and water temperature won't drop below a boil for more than 30 seconds. I use a small pot/two cups of water for 1-2 eggs, a medium pot/one quart of water for 3-4 eggs, and a large pot/half gallon of water or more for 5+ eggs.
- ADD eggs gently to the already boiling water. Keep the heat on medium-high so the water continues to boil and set a timer for 6 minutes.
- SET UP an ice bath with a bowl of water and a few ice cubes to place the eggs in when they're done and set it aside.
- REMOVE the eggs from the boiling water when the timer goes off and immediately put them in the ice bath for at least a minute. Then peel and eat immediately or you can refrigerate them for a week and reheat them in a bowl of hot (but not boiling) water for a few minutes before eating.