Monday, August 14, 2017

Soft-Boiled Eggs

When I was a little girl, my English mother would take me home every other year to see my grandparents.

My Mother
We would sail from New York Harbor to Liverpool on a Cunard White Star liner, the M.V. Britannic, a ship that took eight days instead of five to cross the Atlantic, and it was on that well-remembered ship I first became aware of how much I liked food.

M.V. Britannic
We had breakfast in the dining room; then steaming cups of consommé on deck at 11:00 a.m. Next, back to the dining room, was luncheon, followed by the 8:00 p.m. evening meal. We ate freshly-baked hard rolls with sweet butter, fried eggs and rashers of Irish bacon, leg of lamb with peas cooked with mint. The stewards wore white gloves and served in the French manner, using two spoons to plate the food we requested.

On Board Ship
I ate caviar for the first time when I ordered it off the menu for myself while sailing home after having learned to read - and I mean really read, not Dick and Jane - while I was enrolled at The Rock Ferry Convent School during my stay in England. I was five years old.

The steward got a funny look on his face, and my young and beautiful mother looked at him and said in her most English of English accents, "As she eats olives and anchovies, I imagine she will eat caviar. Please bring it to her as she requested." It came on a plate with little pieces of toast and tiny cubes of aspic, which, thankfully, turned out to be only a decoration. My mother was right. I happily ate the salty caviar on the dry crunchy toast.

My Grandfather's House
At my grandfather's house the food was good too. We ate crumbly, pale orange Cheshire cheese, Hovis wheat bread sliced thin and buttered, eggs boiled softly after being plucked from under the bottom of a reluctant hen, green onions on their stems, red radishes cut in half through the root end, and, sometimes, creamy chicken pies. Sweets were only presented at the end of tea when there was company, but in the kitchen there was always a Victoria sponge cake (with a taste so elusive the closest I have ever come is when I make David Leibovitz's Financiers on Page 258 of My Paris Kitchen), and a plate of triangular current scones, not too sweet and a good companion to a big cup of tea when I got home from school.

I am sometimes able to get Mrs. Appleby's Cheshire Cheese, and I always get it when I see it, but mostly what I crave and eat from those days are soft-boiled eggs, always good but even better when I am able to get them from local hens. In the afternoon I eat them, as at my grandfather's, with buttered bread; in the early morning, with toast soldiers - pieces of toast buttered and cut into strips to dip into the soft yolks.
Appleby's Cheshire at Neal's Yard, London, October 13, 2017
After trying many recipes and different methods for soft-boiled eggs, this is the one I like best.

Soft-Boiled Eggs
Adapted from Cook's Illustrated

Special equipment: An egg cup used to be my preferred way of eating soft-boiled eggs, and when I eat them in a cup, I use an egg topper to take the top off. If you don't have an egg topper, you can tap the top of the egg with a knife and cut the top off with it.  However, lately I've just been cracking the just-cooked egg so I can split it in half and simply eat it with a spoon.

I store my eggs in the refrigerator in the carton they came in, pointy side up. For this recipe, use large eggs that are straight from the refrigerator and still cold. Make sure they have no cracks. I don't prick a hole in the egg. I always wash eggs before I use them as I often have local eggs from a farm, and it's a habit I have gotten into.

I have found this recipe - for me - to be fool-proof. I usually make 1 egg at a time for myself, but this recipe works just as well for up to 4. The eggs are essentially steamed, not boiled, but you get the idea.


Put an inch of water in a saucepan, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Carefully put the egg (or eggs) into the saucepan, and cover. Cook for exactly 6½ minutes. Using a digital timer is the best way to ensure you have the time right.

When the 6½ minutes are up, remove the cover, put the pan in the sink, and run cold water into it for 30 seconds.  Remove the egg or eggs from the pan and eat whichever way you prefer, in an egg cup or just cracked in too.  I put a little mound of salt and pepper on my plate to dip my spoon in between mouthfuls.

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Egg Toppers

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