If you’ve been a Culinate reader for a while, you know that Mark Bittman is one of our favorite cookbook authors. We appreciate his minimalist, unfussy approach to food. In Bittman’s kitchen, even the simplest ingredients are handled with care — not in a precious way, but in a sensible, can-do way.
I’ve been cooking for . . . well, a long time. You would think I’d know the basics, like boiling an egg. I don’t do it that often, however, and when I do — usually for deviled eggs, which I love — I just wing it. “Seems like long enough!” I say after 15 minutes or so and pull the pan from the heat.
Recently our recipe editor, Carrie Floyd, added a soft-boiled egg recipe to our collection, which is great, but the truth is, there are no soft-boiled-egg fans at our house, so I don’t practice very often.
When I saw Bittman’s new book, How to Cook Everything The Basics, I knew I’d never have to wonder about boiling eggs again. On the two-page Egg Basics spread, as elsewhere throughout the book, gorgeous, spare photos by Romulo Yanes accompany Bittman’s detailed text about cooking — in this case, soft- or medium-boiled eggs. No need to wing it anymore.
And eggs are just the beginning. The book is chock-full of tips for cooking everything from soup to Thanksgiving dinner. For both beginners and longtime cooks who would like to polish their techniques, I recommend this one.
Here’s a taste of the text and photos, straight from How to Cook Everything The Basics.
You want to use the freshest eggs possible, but that’s easier said than done, thanks to a confusing and meaningless labeling system. Try to find locally raised eggs if you can. Whichever you choose, look for the sell-by date; it should be at least a couple weeks in the future.
Buy only large or extra-large eggs, since the recipes in this book (and most others) work best with those sizes. Once you get eggs home, leave them in the carton and put them in the coolest part of the fridge — usually the bottom, in the back. (Don’t store them in those cute little cups in the door.) You can tell how good they are when you crack one open: A really fresh egg will have a firm yolk that sits high on a mound of whites. If it’s runny and thin, with a flat yolk, it’s a little on the old side; you can still eat it, though, unless it smells bad.
To keep bits of shell from getting into the part you eat, open an egg by smacking the side definitively — but not aggressively — on a flat, hard surface, stopping your hand when you hear a crack.
Most of what’s inside an egg is the white, which contains more than half of the egg’s protein and none of its fat. The yolk has the majority of the vitamins and the remaining protein and minerals. Don’t freak out if you see a small blood spot in the yolk; you’ll never notice it once the egg is cooked. If it bugs you, remove it with the tip of a sharp knife.
Choose a pot that will comfortably hold all the eggs you want to cook and still have room to cover them with 2 inches of water. Bring the water to a boil and adjust the heat so the water bubbles gently. Lower the egg (or eggs) into the water with a spoon and let them fall off gently so they don’t crack against the sides or bottom.
Adjust the heat so the water never returns to a rolling boil. Then cook the eggs for 3 to 7 minutes, depending on how runny you like them. A timer is handy, since the texture inside the shell changes pretty fast. (The photos on the facing page will give you an idea of what to expect.)
When the desired time is up, run cold water into the pot just until you can handle the eggs. Once you remove one, crack the shell and scoop the insides into a small bowl (or eat straight from the shell), or if the white is firm enough, just peel the egg. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and serve.
The process is slightly different than for soft-cooked eggs.
PUT THE EGGS IN A POT WITH COLD WATER: Choose a pot that will comfortably hold all the eggs you want to cook, add the eggs, and then add enough cold water to cover them by 2 inches. Put the pot over medium-high heat and bring it to a gentle boil; turn off the heat and cover. The average large to extra-large egg will be ready 9 minutes later.
GET AN ICE BATH READY: Cooling the eggs quickly after cooking helps prevent the yolk from developing a harmless (but not too pretty) green ring. Fill a medium bowl with lots of ice and some water. After the eggs steep for 9 minutes, transfer them to the ice bath and let sit for a minute or so. Then eat right away or refrigerate for up to a week or two. To serve, crack the shell gently on all sides, peel, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Eggs cook in a flash. Check out the difference a minute makes.
3-MINUTE SOFT-BOILED EGG: The yolk is completely runny and barely warm and the white still slightly liquid. If you want the white very soft but no longer liquid, let it go to 4 minutes.
5-MINUTE SOFT-BOILED EGG: You’ll get a cooked but runny yolk with some soft white.
7-MINUTE MEDIUM-BOILED EGG: The white will be fully cooked and almost solid, but some of the yolk may have hardened.
9-MINUTE HARD-BOILED EGG: Firm, but not quite dry, yolk and white.
11-MINUTE HARD-BOILED EGG: Still edible, but a little chalky–best for chopping into salads.
For what I would consider the perfect egg, shoot for 6 minutes.
Pull up a chair. Here’s the spot for dispatches from Editorial Director Kim Carlson and, occasionally, others on our staff.
Want more? Comb the archives.
Change in our kitchens
Reflections on cooking — and a career that’s based largely at the stove.
Flatbreads from around the continent
Beyond a supporting role
The great Sicilian-Neapolitan kitchen rivalry
Five ideas each month for eating better