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Summary

This is a long article. If you're really just looking for how to cook an egg, here's the summary:

This will work most of the time, assuming your eggs are the same size as mine. If not, read on.

Discussion

In November 2006, Yvonne went to Europe for some teaching and left me with 18 fresh eggs in the fridge, so I've had a boiled egg for breakfast every day. It's easy to boil an egg, right? That's why none of my myriad cookbooks have details. Somewhere in the back of my head I had this concept of a “3 minute egg”. The first time (not recently) that I tried this, the egg came out almost raw: only some of the white had started to coagulate.

What went wrong? Details, as usual. There are two basic ways to boil an egg:

  1. Put an egg in cold water in a saucepan, bring to the boil, and boil for three minutes. This will give you an egg where (roughly) the white is solid and the yolk is still liquid.
  2. Bring some water to the boil in a saucepan. Add the egg and boil for six minutes. Again, this will give you an egg where (roughly) the white is solid and the yolk is still liquid.

I went looking on the web and found references to both methods: eHow.com gives only the first method, while Delia online gives both, the second with a twist: take the pot off the boil after one minute and leave another 6 minutes (7 in total).

Somehow both of these are missing a number of important points:

What does this mean in practice? I use method 2 because it's more reproducible. Ultimately you're going to have to find your own times, but if you have a box of eggs like the ones shown above, you'll have an idea how to proceed. I've been eating the big eggs so far; when I get to the small ones, I'd guess that they will only need 5 minutes instead of 6.

The girl guide method

On 31 March 2011 I was watching the programme To the Manor Born, where I saw this strange idea of how to “boil” an egg:

 
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That's not boiling, of course. In fact, I'm not sure what I'd call it, but it's clearly cooking by convection. In the film the idea was that Girl guides might use this method when stranded in the desert.


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