My dad taught me how to cook soft-boiled eggs exactly the way I like them: the white set but soft, the yolk thick and runny.
Mom could not boil an egg to save her life. Well, she could boil them but who knew how they would turn out. And however they turned out, we had to eat them. And when they were undercooked? The whites barely translucent? Of course, we had to eat them. And could not leave the table until we did. Tears could not move her. This was back in the days when the milkman delivered milk and eggs to the back porch every few days and no one thought about salmonella.
Most likely mom’s relationship with time prevented her from boiling eggs successfully. She ignored it. While Dad, a daily communter to Manhattan, moved easily in time. Eggs and trains both demand timely attention.
All this came to mind the other day as the 18-year-old ate his eggs, soft boiled. “How did you do it?” he asked. Good grief, I thought, he will soon be going to college and he can’t boil an egg.
“How do you cook soft-boiled eggs” is not the sort of question you can answer with: “until it’s done.” The timing is both precise and depends: on how cold your eggs, how many you want to cook, how big your pot. You may need to do some experimenting to adapt this method to your needs and preferred texture. So here goes:
Start with a 1 1/2-quart saucepan with a lid. Fill it to within 1 1/2 inches or so of the top, cover it, and bring the water to a boil. Meanwhile, get the eggs out of the fridge and find your big slotted spoon. I am assuming large eggs. If you use extra-large or jumbo, you will need to increase the timing by about 30 seconds to a minute.
Turn the heat off, put the eggs in your spoon, as many as will fit because you want them to cook the same amount of time. Now sloooooowly lower the eggs into the hot water. They will start oozing bubbles the way you do when you let your breath out underwater. If you lower them too fast, they will crack.
Once they’ve hit bottom, clap the top on the pan, and set your timer for 6 minutes. This timing should result in the eggs being cooked as I described above. Dad preferred a 5-minute egg. Yuk. Too soft for any of his daughters who still plump for 6-minute eggs.
While the eggs cook, toast your bread and butter it. Then tear one piece into your bowl. The bread is your secret weapon. If the egg is not perfectly cooked as I described above, the bread will absorb any runny part and you will still be able to eat it. Now why didn’t Mom think of that?!
When the timer rings, do not hestitate but grab your slotted spoon, remove the eggs, and either drop them in a bowl of water you have handy in the sink—I almost always do, thank goodness, because it comes in handy—or hold them under running cold water just until they are cool enough to handle. Then crack them into your bowl. Add salt and pepper to your liking and enjoy.