Protein-rich pantry staple, eggs can be cooked in so many ways and boiling in the shell is only one of them. But did you know that even boiled eggs can be cooked and served in more than one way?
Cooking stages in boiling eggs
I used to think that, when cooking eggs in the shell, there were three stages: soft boiled, medium boiled and hard boiled. It was only after years and years of cooking and observing did I realize that that wasn’t exactly true.
Soft boiled eggs have fully cooked egg whites that are firm near the shell but soft around the yolk. The yolk is runny. I ate a lot of soft boiled eggs as a child. I preferred it over hard boiled eggs with firm yolks. The reason? The runny yolk. There are few things in life that is more sensuous than cutting through an egg yolk and watching the silky yellow-orange liquid flow out.
Medium boiled eggs fall under two categories.
One has semi-firm yolk along the edges but still runny at the center. That’s the most popular way of cooking eggs that go into a bowl of ramen.
Then, there’s medium-boiled eggs with soft but not runny yolk.
Hard boiled eggs, when cooked correctly, have firm yolks with no greenish-gray layer around it. If something gray surrounds the yolk, the egg is either overcooked or there’s too much iron in the water in which the egg was cooked. The greenish-gray ring is harmless but unsightly.
Is there a foolproof formula for cooking soft-boiled, medium-boiled and hard-boiled eggs?
No, there isn’t.
While boiling eggs is perceived to be the second simplest thing to do in the kitchen (next to boiling water), there is actually a more-or-less scientific way to achieve the balance of rawness and doneness even though you can’t see the egg through the shell while you’re boiling it.
Do you drop the eggs into the pan before or after the water boils?
Some cooks add their eggs to already simmering water. There are cooks who say it is best to drop eggs in boiling water then turning off the heat and covering the pan tightly. How long the eggs bathe in hot water depends on whether you want them soft or hard boiled.
With so many techniques, and each claiming to be the foolproof formula, it’s all so confusing.
Here’s how I do it at home.
I start with tap water. I put the eggs in a pan, pour in enough water to cover the eggs by an inch, then I set the pan on the stove. When the water boils, I set the stove to its lowest setting and cover than pan. Then I start counting the minutes.
Is counting the minutes an accurate way to control how boiled eggs will turn out?
No, it isn’t.
It’s easy enough to know when to pull the egg out of the pan so that the yolk is cooked according to your preference IF you can see the egg while cooking. When frying or poaching eggs, all you have to do is move the pan a bit to see if the yolks are still jiggly. But when the eggs are cooked inside their shells, it’s a different story.
Some cooks go by the number of minutes the eggs are submerged in hot water. There are those who live by the absolute rule that five minutes of cooking will yield soft boiled eggs while 12 minutes of boiling will result in hard boiled eggs.
The problem with this approach is that egg sizes vary. Small eggs will go over the soft boiled stage after five minutes of cooking while extra large eggs will have runny whites and uncooked yolks.
The smarter technique, therefore, consists of: FIRST, creating a balance between the size of the egg and the number of minutes that they have to be in hot water; and SECOND, determine the number of minutes according to whether the stove is turned off or stays on during the cooking.
Do boiled eggs need to be dumped in cold water after cooking?
Yes, especially if you’re aiming for medium-boiled eggs with firm white and runny yolks. Contact with cold watter will immediately stop the cooking process.
Why not allow the eggs to cool naturally on the countertop?
Have you observed how long it takes for boiled eggs to cool naturally until you can handle them without saying ouch! and immediately dropping them? In those minutes, eggs — especially at the center — are still hot enough for residual cooking to take place. So, to prevent them from cooking farther, dump in cold water. Iced water is even better.
Updated from posts originally published in July 19, 2011 and October 11, 2017