Cooking Fundamentals: Soft and Hard Boiled Eggs

How to make soft and hard boiled eggs
Soft boiled eggs, buttered toast, and dry-cured sausage - the breakfast of champions.
One of the measures of a competent cook has got to be their treatment of the incredible egg. Escoffier himself was known to test prospective cooks by watching them make an omelet, and chefs today still consider the egg to be a litmus test for the prowess of a chef.

I used to think it was all nonsense and I used to not particularly like eggs. I grew up in a household where hard boiled eggs meant putting eggs in a pot of water, boiling them for a while, then cooling and peeling them. What it got me was a green-ringed, chalky yolk in a rubbery package. Omelets and scrambled eggs were eggs fried in a pan with stuff thrown in. I wasn't impressed, and I could do without the eggs, thank you very much.

Then something changed. I had a perfectly fried egg served over corned beef hash at a diner. I still remember the crisp buttery edges of the white and that runny, oozy, egg yolk, making it's own sauce. Hmm, maybe eggs were better than I thought? I started running into delicious egg dishes in restaurants everywhere. Poached eggs with bacon lardons on a frisee salad hit my radar, then soft-boiled, then deconstructed (thanks to Wylie Dufresne at wd-50). It was time I went back to the kitchen and figured it out for myself.

I started with scrambled eggs and was flabbergasted. The rubbery, watery messes I'd been eating up to then couldn't even be considered the same dish as the creamy, unctuous scrambled eggs I was making now. Hard-boiled and soft-boiled came next, and those two are what I'm going to share with you today.

Hard-Boiled Eggs
Whether or not you like eating hard-boiled eggs straight up or you want them to use as an ingredient in egg salad, deviled eggs, potato salad, or the numerous dishes where hard-boiled eggs play a prominent role, trust me when I tell you the difference a properly hard-boiled egg makes is tangible in both flavor and texture. They aren't difficult to make, but they do require a bit of attention.

It starts with a pot of water. You want enough cold water to cover your eggs. Place these over medium heat and bring to a rolling boil. As soon as they are boiling, pop a lid on the pot, turn off the heat, and set a timer for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, place the eggs in a bath of ice or cool water (depending on the temp you want the eggs when they are peeled) for about 2 minutes.

Peeling Hard-Boiled Eggs
The trick to peeling hard boiled eggs is to start at the bottom. That's where the natural air pocket is. Start by cracking there and peeling off that portion of the shell first. The rest of the shell should come off easily after that point, but if you have trouble, a teaspoon slid under the shell after you've removed the bottom should pop the whole egg out.

Start by cracking the bottom.
Then peel away.

Starting at the bottom, peeling eggs are a breze.
Perfect hard boiled eggs. Whites are set, but not rubbery, yolks are cooked, but bright and rich, not green and chalky.
Soft-Boiled Eggs
I enjoy soft-boiled eggs for breakfast, but honestly, their uses don't end there. Soft-boiled eggs make a bowl of ramen better, are a lovely topping for composed salads or vegetable dishes, or can be served on their own with a variety of accompaniments depending on the time of day.

Like hard boiled, it starts with a pot of water. In this instance though, you only want about an inch of water covering the bottom of the pot. Do not add the eggs in the beginning, instead, bring the water to a boil, then add the eggs, cover the pot, and let them boil gently (I usually turn the heat to medium low) for 4 to 6 minutes. At 4 minutes, you'll have loose whites and watery yolks, perfect substitution for poached eggs if you want to place on a salad. At 5 minutes you'll have just set whites and runny yolks (my choice for ramen) and at 6 minutes, you'll have firm set whites and oozy yolks (as in my picture at the top of the post, my perfect breakfast egg.) Just like the hard-boiled, after the allotted time, place the eggs in a bath of ice or cool water (depending on the temp you want the eggs when they are peeled) for about 2 minutes.

Peeling Soft-Boiled Eggs
For 4 and 5 minute versions, after breaking the bottom, I immediately use a spoon. I've broken too many soft-boiled eggs by trying to peel them with my hands. 6 minute eggs though, usually peel very easily by hand. The choice is yours.

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