I’ve been boiling eggs for nigh on forty-five years, but though my mother – an excellent, professionally-trained cook – knew her stuff and passed onto me various culinary techniques and skills, boiling eggs never seemed to be a sure-fire success. Her eggs were often too runny, so that we had to scoop the egg out into a cup, mushing the white (which was a wee bit too transparent for my taste) with the yolk, saving the whole enterprise by adding a knob of butter and dunking fat fingers of toast into the resulting soup. This, she called “American style”. As it was to be well over twenty years until I stepped on American soil, I had to take her word for it. I’ve been there many times since and I’ve never seen anyone eat a boiled egg that way, so I can only guess fashions have changed or she had a very good reason to pass off this culinary mess as a transatlantic foible.
How ironic then that while in Chicago the other day (how the five simple words “in Chicago the other day” can suggest a jet-setting lifestyle through the expenditure of so little effort!) I was flicking through a magazine which claimed it had solved the problem of cooking the perfect boiled egg; that is, one where the white is properly cooked but the yolk is still runny.
For the last fifteen years I’ve boiled eggs by putting them in a pan of cold water then timing them for two-and-a-half minutes from the moment the water boils. This was a method expounded as foolproof by some telly chef, and it wasn’t bad. It wasn’t reliable though and I could see why. Surely the length of time the water took to reach boiling would rely too much on the size of the pan, the number of eggs and how cold they were? With a big pan and a lot of water, the eggs would be at a temperature close to boiling – at which the eggs would cook – for too long. I had mixed results and mixed results are no good.
Well, I tried what I shall call The Chicago Method this morning and it produced such perfect eggs that I feel moved to share it. At last, I’ve cracked the boiled egg problem. (There, you’ve been waiting three hundred words for me to say that, haven’t you?) The way to get perfect boiled eggs is to steam them.
In a pan, bring just 1cm of water to a rapid boil. Carefully lower the eggs (as many as you like and they can be straight from the fridge) into the water. Because there’s so little water, it should come back up to the boil very quickly. Just get the water to boiling as fast as you can. As soon as it’s boiling, put a lid on the pan (crucial!) and time them for six-and-a-half minutes. And that’s it. Trust me, it works perfectly. All three eggs I did this morning were utterly perfect with firm whites and runny yolks.
The method works so well because the eggs get to the crucial cooking temperature very quickly, thus making the timing more accurate. What’s more, there was no sign of any cracking or bursting, and I’m sure there’s a good scientific reason for that too. The Chicago article claimed that they are also easier to peel. I’ve yet to test that claim but I’ve got my mind set on making some Scotch eggs over the Christmas holidays so I’ll find out soon enough.
SCOTCH EGG UPDATE
I steamed the eggs for 9 minutes and filled the pan with cold water to stop them cooking. The first I peeled, peeled very easily but the last three not so well. I think I should really plunge them in iced water. So, no big improvement to report there. Or rather, more research is needed. However, I can report that the finished scotch eggs were brilliant. The yolks, while not runny (I didn’t want that), were still slightly mollient. That is they still had softness and colour, rather than being like lumps of yellow chalk with a green rim. So, I shall definitely repeat the 9 minute process the next time I cook scotch eggs.