One September, several years ago, on the sun-kissed shores of Lake Geneva, my husband and I fell in love with soft-boiled eggs. At the end of a continental breakfast buffet that featured croissants, cheese, fresh fruit and good coffee there was an arrangement of little egg cups beside a basket of boiled eggs. They seemed like an elegant breakfast choice as we ate them looking out onto the streets of Lausanne and the lake beyond.
Of course that wasn’t the first time we had eaten soft-boiled eggs. Both my husband and I also remembered them fondly from our childhood. Exploring those memories we found that they were less about the taste or quality of the egg itself than they were about the process and the accessories that eating soft-boiled eggs demanded. There was also a sense that those softly cooked eggs were something special our mothers wanted to share with us.
I remembered my mother serving soft boiled eggs at our chrome and formica kitchen table. Mine wore a pointed felt hat and sat in an egg cup that was decorated to look like a storybook character. My husband remembered cracking the top of soft boiled eggshells with the back of a knife and carefully peeling off the shell before spooning out the soft center.
Recreating Breakfasts Remembered
Home again, we began to collect our own set of implements to accompany soft-boiled eggs. We bought egg cups, egg spoons and an egg timer. Then we began our quest for the best method to cook a perfect soft-boiled egg, one where the white was firmly set and the yolk was thick and golden but not yet pale and crumbly. Through many trial runs we noted the details: depth of water, temperature setting of the burner, eggs added to cold water or after the water began to boil, number of minutes at a boil, etc. It may seem silly but, as with many simple things, the details matter.
Here is my husband’s current method for cooking soft-boiled eggs. It worked well this past weekend, yielding a firm white exterior that cradled a thick soft golden yolk. Once again we remembered how wonderful something as simple as a boiled egg can taste on a leisurely weekend morning.
4 large eggs
water, to cover
pinch of salt
a few grinds of pepper
Place eggs in a small saucepan. Barely cover the eggs with cold water.
Place saucepan on the stove over high heat. Heat water just to a boil.
Turn off heat, leaving the saucepan on the burner. Leave in place, uncovered, for 3 minutes.
Drain and place eggs in eggcups. Cover eggs with cozies. Allow to sit for 5 minutes or so before serving.
Remove top of shell with an egg topper, or by gently tapping around the circumference of the egg, near the top, to break it, and peeling away the bits of shell over the top quarter of the egg. Sprinkle exposed egg with a few grains of salt and a few grinds of pepper.
It is nice to have egg spoons or other small spoons with a rounded bowl for eating the egg and scooping out the last bits of white from inside the shell.
Serve eggs with toast and sausage or bacon. Discreetly dip toast bits into the egg yolk if desired...
Note: For another approach to the perfect soft-boiled egg read this post about the Cook’s Illustrated method. Or these tips from Cathy at Wives with Knives. Though we have had some success lately, I am still fascinated by the quest for the P.S.B.E. Plus I love the photos and serving ideas.