How do you boil eggs? The answer to this is carefully. What we need to do first of all is memorise a few very important rules. Don't ever boil eggs that have come straight from the refrigerator, because very cold eggs plunged straight into hot water are likely to crack. Always use a kitchen timer – trying to guess the timing or even remembering to look at your watch can be hazardous. Never over-boil eggs (you won't if you have a timer) – this is the cardinal sin because the yolks will turn black and the texture will be like rubber. If the eggs are very fresh (less than four days old), allow an extra 30 seconds on each timing.
Always use a small saucepan – eggs with too much space to career about and crash into one another while they cook are likely to crack. Never have the water fast boiling; a gentle simmer is all they need. Remember that eggs have a pocket at their wide end where air collects and, during the boiling, pressure can build up and cause cracking. A simple way to deal with this is to make a pinprick in the rounded end of the shell, which will allow the steam to escape.
Soft-boiled eggs – method 1
Obviously, every single one of us has a personal preference as to precisely how we like our eggs cooked. Over the years I have found a method that is both simple and reliable, and the various timings set out here seem to accommodate all tastes. First of all have a small saucepan filled with enough simmering water to cover the eggs by about 1/2 inch (1 cm). Then quickly but gently lower the eggs into the water, one at a time, using a tablespoon. Now switch the timer on and give the eggs exactly 1 minute's simmering time. Then remove the pan from the heat, put a lid on it and set the timer again, giving the following timings:
• 6 minutes will produce a soft, fairly liquid yolk and a white that is juset set but still quite wobbly.
• 7 minutes will produce a firmer, more creamy yolk with a white that is competely set.
On the subject of eating soft-boiled eggs, I personally am willing to take the risk. As a general practice, though, it is not advisable to serve these to vulnerable groups, such as very young children, pregnant women, the elderly or anyone weakened by serious illness.
Soft-boiled eggs – method 2
I have found this alternative method also works extremely well. This time you place the eggs in the saucepan, cover them with cold water by about ½ inch (1 cm), place them on a high heat and, as soon as they reach boiling point, reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and give the following timings:
• 3 minutes if you like a really soft boiled egg
• 4 minutes for a white that is just set and a yolk that is creamy
• 5 minutes for a white and yolk perfectly set, only a little bit squidgy in the centre.
Some people hate soft-boiled eggs and like to eat them straight from the shell, hard-boiled. All well and good, but if you want to use hard-boiled eggs in a recipe and have to peel them, this can be extremely tricky if the eggs are too fresh. The number one rule, therefore, is to use eggs that are at least five days old from their packing date. The method is as follows:
Place the eggs in a saucepan and add enough cold water to cover them by about ½ inch (1 cm). Bring the water up to simmering point, put a timer on for 6 minutes if you like a bit of squidgy in the centre, 7 minutes if you want them cooked through. Then, the most important part is to cool them rapidly under cold running water. Let the cold tap run over them for about 1 minute, then leave them in cold water till they're cool enough to handle – about 2 minutes.
Peeling hard-boiled eggs can be extremely tricky if the eggs are too fresh. The number one rule, therefore, is to use eggs that are at least five days old from their packing date. The best way to do this is to first tap the eggs all over to crack the shells, then hold each egg under a slow trickle of running water as you peel the shell off, starting at the wide end. The water will flush off any bits of shell that cling on. Then back they go into cold water until completely cold. If you don't cool the eggs rapidly they will go on cooking and become overcooked, then you get the black-ring problem.
The distinctive colour of quails' eggs makes them a beautiful alternative to hens' eggs, and they're just as simple to cook. For boiling, again, they should not be too fresh, and they are best cooked by lowering them into simmering water for 5 minutes. Then cool them rapidly and peel them as above.