I used to be able to cook soft boiled eggs just right, but I seem to have lost my touch in recent years. I have tried using different types of eggs, different sizes of eggs, different quantities of eggs, different boiling times, and even cute egg-shaped kitchen gadgets. However, nothing works consistently: I either have uncooked white on one end, or hardened yolk on the other.
So I was thrilled when I found this tip in my latest Cook’s Illustrated magazine (Jan/Feb 2013 issue). And the best thing is that it works with just about any sized egg and for a quantity of up to six eggs.
Get a pan large enough to hold as many eggs as you are cooking. Add just half an inch of water. Yes, you read that right: only half an inch. A couple of centimeters. That’s it.
How does this work? Simple science: remember that water boils at 212 degrees F. Most of us make soft boiled eggs in boiling water. However, adding eggs to boiling water, even room temperature eggs, cools the water just slightly (think of how a cube of ice cools a drink). Since most of us keep our eggs in the refrigerator, adding cold eggs lowers the water temperature even more. And if you add several cold eggs, then yes, just like adding several cubes of ice to a drink, the temperature is lowered even more. In the time it takes for that water to reach 212 degrees again and boil, the eggs are submerged in “cooler” water than they want to be. Factor in all the different sizes of eggs available, from small to large to jumbo, it’s no wonder that a consistent boiling time is so hard to come by.
Using this technique, however, the steam from the boiling water remains trapped inside the pan and remains at a constant 212 degrees (steam can’t get any hotter than that). This means that the eggs, surrounded on all sides by this steam, are being cooked in an exactly 212 degree environment. And as long as all the eggs aren’t nestled up against each other, the steam comes in contact with all sides of each egg, which is why this method works for one egg or several (I have only used it with two eggs, since that’s all I can – or probably should – eat in one sitting).
When the timer goes off, the eggs are done. Remove each egg and run it under cold water for a few seconds. Or, if you are cooking several eggs, place them in a cold water bath. (You could just fill the cooking pan with cold water, but a lot of pans don’t respond well to being shocked with a sudden temperature change like that, and tend to warp. Keep your pans happy and just cool the eggs outside the pan.)