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, who lived in Bebbington on the eastern side of the Wirral Peninsula.

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

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. In what is called the English manner, the steward wore white gloves and stood at each person's left side and used two silver spoons held in one hand to serve the food onto each dinner plate rather than carrying plates already filled with food to the table. My favorite meal was freshly-baked hard rolls with sweet butter, leg of lamb, peas cooked with mint, and craggy roast potatoes.

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 while I was enrolled at The Rock Ferry Convent School during my stay in England. I was six 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 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. We ate crumbly, pale orange Cheshire cheese, Hovis whole wheat bread sliced thin by hand and gently buttered, eggs boiled softly after being plucked from under the bottom of a reluctant hen, green onions on their stems, and cherry tomatoes. Sweets were only presented at the end of tea when we had company, but in the kitchen there was always a sponge cake, a plate of hand-shaped triangular current scones, and some ginger nut biscuits available for the taking.

Orange Currant Scones from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook
I am sometimes able to get Mrs. Appleby's Cheshire Cheese at Guido's in Pittsfield, MA, and I always buy it when I see it, but mostly what I crave from those days are soft-boiled eggs, always good but even better when I am able to get them from local hens. 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. Calling them soft-boiled is really a misnomer as they are not boiled at all, but steamed.

I got a subscription to Cook's Illustrated magazine with its first issue, and now I'm a digital subscriber to its progeny, America's Test Kitchen. I use it for the thoroughly-tested recipes and in-depth equipment reviews.

My preferred way of eating soft-boiled eggs is the way I ate them at my grandfather's - in an egg cup with toast soldiers, pieces of toast buttered and cut into strips to dip into the soft yolks. I put a little mound of salt and pepper on my plate to dip my spoon in between mouthfuls. I use an egg topper to take the top off. If you don't have an egg topper, you can tap all over the top of the egg with a knife and then use the knife to cut the top off. However, if you want to eat the egg smashed onto a piece of buttered toast, you can crack the just-cooked egg in the middle on a plate, split it in half, and scoop it right onto the toast with a spoon.

I store my eggs in the refrigerator in the carton they came in. 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, and I always wash eggs before I use them as I usually have local eggs from a farm, and it's a habit I have gotten into.

I have found this recipe and the timing works for me. I usually make 1 egg at a time for myself, but this recipe works just as well for up to 4.

Soft-Boiled Eggs
Adapted from Cook's Illustrated


From 1 to 4 large eggs


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. Reduce the heat a little, and cook for exactly 7 minutes.  I use a digital timer to ensure I have the time right. Seven minutes is what works for me. If you find the egg is cooked a little more than you like, reduce the time a little to see what works for you.

When the time is up, remove the cover, put the pan in the sink, and run cold water into it for 30 seconds to stop the egg from cooking. Remove the egg or eggs from the pan and eat whichever way you prefer. 

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Egg Toppers

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