To many, there is a more important question than what came first, the chicken or the egg? and that is, how long should I boil an egg?
That would make for a great title for the autobiography of a celebrity chef, don’t you think? It would also be an interesting subject for the Oxford debate because for something that sounds so simple, there is a mass of questions surrounding the whole issue of how long should I boil an egg?
It isn’t just about timing, but many other factors have to be considered:
• What type of egg is it? – i.e. what animal laid it and I don’t mean was it a spring chicken named Gertrude or an old broiler called Cluckie, but is it a hen’s egg, a duck egg, a quail egg, or even one from an ostrich.
• What size is it ?– see above
• Do I want it soft or hard boiled?
• Am I going to eat it hot or cold?
• If eaten cold, will it have that grey ring around the outside of the yolk?
Then there are the questions of science and culinary art which includ:e
• How big a saucepan do I need?
• How many can be boiled together?
• Should the water be boiling before I add the egg or can I start cold?
• Should I add some vinegar to the water because I read somewhere that will prevents shells cracking?
• Do I cut the top off with a teaspoon or a knife?
It’s all starting to become rather stressful and all I really want to know is how long should I boil an egg?
It is an elementary question and everyone should know the answer before they leave the parental home. Eggs are nutritious, versatile, cheap, and readily available. If you have eggs in your fridge, even the most impoverished student or useless cook should be able to whip up boiled egg and soldiers.
So, now I know all this, let’s finally address the question – how long should I boil an egg?
I have consulted a number of sources from online forums, to cookbooks aimed at novice or useless cooks, to the great and good of the cheffie world, and this is the result of my research.
Let’s talk about soft boiled eggs first.
According to leading TV chef, the Frenchman, Jean-Christophe Novelli, it takes but three minutes to boil eggs for a soft yolk, from immersion in already boiling water. Leading British culinary queen, Delia Smith, known for her ‘How to Cook’ series and books, however, tells a different story. If you ask Ms. Smith,** how long should I boil an egg for a soft yolk**, she will say a full six minutes. The water needs to be boiling gently before adding the egg which is at room temperature, and then the heat turned down so it is only just boiling. According to the Royal Society of Chemists in the UK, Delia Smith has it absolutely right. After a large number of experiments, they have concluded six minutes is perfect.
Let’s now turn our attention to how long should I boil an egg for a hard yolk? I guess it makes sense to say that if it’s six minutes for soft, anything beyond that is hard. Absolutely – how long beyond the six minutes you go is down to personal preference. According to my research, between seven and nine minutes is the optimum.
As to all those other considerations mentioned earlier, that really comes down to how much you want to be involved in boiling your egg. For most of us, dropping the egg into the water, timing it, removing it and popping it into the egg cup ready to dunk our soldiers in, is the entire game. I’m happy to leave the rest to chefs who charge $10+ for a breakfast of an egg and 2 slices of toast.