If you boil an egg for 20 minutes you will not have a soft-boiled egg.
I didn’t learn this the hard way; I learned it from a joke: “Now it has boiled for 20 minutes – and it is not soft yet?” The idea of boiling an egg for 20 minutes had never been on my mind before I heard the joke.
If you use a fresh large egg – large is a standard size for eggs, as is small or extra-large, and refers to the weight of the egg – and take it out of the refrigerator when you set the water to boil in a pot, puncture the thick end with an egg piercer, and put the egg into the water when the water boils, a soft-boiled egg needs 5 minutes and 26 seconds at sea level. That gives you white egg white and runny yolk. If you like clear runny egg white, modify the boiling time. I don’t.
Should you live high in the mountains where lower air pressure can result in the water boiling at a slightly lower temperature, you may need to give the egg a little more time – a little more being less than half a minute more. If you take the egg directly from the refrigerator when the water boils, it also needs more time. If your egg sits in a bowl on the kitchen counter and is room temperature before you put it in the pot, it needs less time.
You puncture the thick end of the egg with an egg piercer because this end contains a little bubble of air. When the air expands, as it does when it gets heated, it can escape out of the hole. Otherwise, the eggshell may crack while you are boiling the egg.
When the time is up, you throw out the boiling water and shock the egg with cold water to stop the boiling. Then you throw out the cold water or your egg will get cold. If you don’t shock the egg, it will continue boiling and be hardboiled if it sits for more than a couple of minutes. Unless you get an egg immediately after it has come from the kitchen, it will almost always be hardboiled if you go to a hotel where they serve soft-boiled eggs for breakfast. That is because their eggs haven’t been shocked.
Some eggs are almost oval and it can be difficult to tell the thick end – the bottom – from the other end – the top. If you put the cold egg to your lips, the end with the air bubble will heat up faster. If no end of the egg heats up within 10 seconds, the egg may be rotten, and you should throw it away. Don’t check by breaking the egg to make a fried egg instead. Rotten eggs smell like, well, rotten eggs. (This simple trick can also be used for normally shaped eggs that you just don’t remember when you bought. Boiling time may vary with freshness.)
Don’t use plastic or silver when you eat your egg or store a cracked egg or whisk it in a bowl. Egg will make silver black because eggs contain Sulphur that interacts with the silver. Eggs will chemically bond with your plastic bowl and you may get some of the artificial hormones or carcinogens drawn out of the plastic and into the cake/omelet.
Warning: Raw or undercooked eggs may contain Salmonella. But the bacteria are mainly on the outside of the shell, being transferred from the bird shit, so the risk with soft-boiled eggs – where the shell has been heated to boiling point – is minimal compared to for example using raw egg yolks in ice cream. If you only need the raw egg yolk, you can pour boiling water over the raw egg while it is lying the sink before you crack it and you have reduced the risk of Salmonella considerably. If you need raw egg whites, buy them pasteurized.
From “If you use a fresh large egg…”, everything but what is written in italics has been learned from my father cooking breakfast on weekends. My mother taught me the boldfaced part. I taught my father the italics part later.
Salmonella wasn’t much of a thing before the egg farmers started giving their chicken antibiotics in the feed to make them fat faster. We used plenty of raw eggs when I was growing up. We never ate soft-boiled eggs except on weekends. On weekdays, we ate cereal before rushing off to school – not raw eggs.
I didn’t need Simon Sinek to teach me that the Why – why we are in business, why we think like we do, why eggs take longer to boil in the mountains – is important for getting the message through. My father always explained why. If you don’t know why things are one way and not another, it is much harder to remember – or to wish to listen in the first place. “Because I said so” never held any value in our household.
A central part of the teaching was that I would boil eggs. Explain, show, practice, practice, practice.
Can you swim? Speak a foreign language? Or ride a bike? Some things just can’t be learned from reading a book or watching a video.
But whether you will ever attempt to learn to swim, or ride a bike, or make a white sauce, or boil an egg, or do anything else that you don’t master already, may hinge on whether you trust that the teacher will keep you reasonably safe. Safe physically or from ridicule.
If you got punished or ridiculed for “serving runny or hardboiled eggs”, you may never have learned to cook them to perfection. You will probably not even like eggs.
But you should know why. The reason may have gone away.