Sunday, 18 May 2014

A good boiled egg

Rustling up breakfast can be as easy as... boiling an egg!

WHAT’S breakfast without an egg or two? Or three. And if boiling egg is the easiest dish in the world to cook, why are there so many overcooked hardboiled eggs walking around like they have a right to be here?

You can tell it’s over boiled if you can play ping pong with the egg. Or the yolk pops out to greet you like an excited wayward eyeball. And if you are wondering why there is a grey-green ring around your yolk ... it’s not the yolk having a bout of white-envy.

Okay, so I detest overcooked egg with its chalky, powdery yolk and odorous white that make you want to gag. It’s the biggest crime you can commit in the kitchen; properly cooked, a boiled egg, in its various degrees of doneness, and in its glorious simplicity, is quite the perfect food.

Boiling eggs is attractive exactly because it is so easy – it is, once you know how to do it right. And boiled eggs don’t have to be boring.

So how do you boil an egg? It is not a trivial question – scientists have taken to the kitchen to try to answer this.

I was once given a formula during an egg cooking class: Bring water to boil and then add the eggs: cook for three minutes for softboil, six for mollet (pronounced mo-lay, a molten centre egg that can be peeled), and 10 for hard.

Having read many other recipes for boiling eggs where you are told to start the cooking with the eggs in cold water, I asked the chef why and was directed to read Hervé This, the French gastronomic scientist.

In his book Kitchen Mysteries, This (pronounced “Tiss”) explains by way of quoting Madame Saint-Ange, a significant cookbook author published over a hundred years ago whose excellent advice has held up in the name of science:

It is a common mistake to think that there is no risk of overcooking hardboiled eggs and therefore it does not matter how long they remain in the boiling water. An overcooked hardboiled egg is tough, the yolk is rimmed with green, and the white gives off an unpleasant odour. Another mistake is to put eggs in lukewarm or cold water and only then bringing it to a boil; the result is a faulty distribution of the white around the yolk, not achieving an attractive roundness...

The advice from the top food scientist in the world to hard boil eggs properly is to “immerse them in water that is already boiling, allow the water to return to a boil, and let the eggs cook for 10 minutes. Then put the eggs immediately into cold water – that will make them easier to shell.”

American food science writer Harold McGee clarifies that egg should be soft-cooked just below the boiling point and hard-cooked well below the boiling point (at 80-85°C) as “boiling water is turbulent and too hot”, breaks shells and toughens proteins and intensifies cooked egg flavour.

So now you can forget the art of boiling egg – now that we know the science. And it gets more interesting from here.

After This revealed to the famed avant garde chef Pierre Gagnaire his discovery of the l’oeuf à soixante-cinq degrés, the 65°C egg, slow cooked and having a flavour and texture that is unmatched, the culinary circles exploded with a new fascination for soft-centred eggs, and chefs around the world whipped out their cooking thermometers and sous vide machines in the name of egg perfection.

Each chef sought to establish his own magic temperature to cook his signature egg to get the white and yellow to have the same consistency – not an easy feat as they set at different temperatures: the white at around 60°C and the yolk at around 63°C.

For chef Thomas Keller, it’s 62.5°C for one hour; Heston Blumenthal prefers to cook in a pouch at 73.2°C for 20 minutes; Grant Achatz cooks it with cream and salt in a bag at 82°C for 15 minutes, and Joel Robuchon goes all the way at 62.5°C for four hours (This has said that at the said temperature, it doesn’t matter how long you cook the egg, it will not overcook).

Officially, we have moved into an era of precision cooking defined by cooking temperatures with decimal points. But that’s chasing after the mythical perfect egg for cooks who wear high hats.

At home, the simple method here is good enough to elicit the oohs and aahs from the family.

Best practices

1. Always store eggs in the refrigerator for safety reasons and to prolong their shelf life. It’s worth repeating that eggs stored at room temperature age more in one day than in one week stored in the refrigerator. In the refrigerator, eggs can maintain its quality for 4-5 weeks after the packing date, and eggs of good quality will keep for several weeks past their sell-by date. Eggs seldom spoil, but their content will shrink and deteriorate, losing firmness, and the yolk membrane will break easily.

2. Store eggs in its carton or an airtight container to slow moisture loss and prevent odour pick-up through the porous shell.

3. Buy pasteurised eggs if you intend to use it in a recipe that calls for raw egg so you don’t have to worry about salmonella contamination. (Pasteurised eggs are sold in its own refrigerator.)

Ways to prevent egg cracks

1. Ensure eggs are at room temperature before cooking – take them out of the fridge at least 15 minutes before. The major cause of cracking is the difference in temperature between the cold egg and hot water.

2. Prick the wide end of the egg with a pin to allow expanding air to escape.

3. Use an appropriate sized pan to prevent too much rolling and place egg in single layer.

4. Add a tablespoon of vinegar or/and a teaspoon of salt to the boiling water to seal any potential cracks.

5. Cook in gently simmering water – just below the boiling point.

Ways to easily peel an egg

1. Use older eggs which are easier to peel.

2. Cool egg completely in ice water for 1 minute before peeling as cooling causes the white to contract and pull away from the shell.

3. After cooling, tap the egg lightly on all sides to make several small cracks.

4. Then roll the egg on a counter, applying even pressure with your palm to further loosen the shell from the egg.

5. Peel the egg in water; start peeling at the wide end of the egg and pull the shell off in several pieces.

What you should know

A variety of harmful bacteria readily grow in eggs and egg dishes. Careless handling at any stage can contaminate eggs and cause illness. Our practice of leaving boiled egg – whether still in its shell or not – out at room temperature over the course of a day is not a condoned practice. Cooked eggs should be stored in the fridge if it is not eaten immediately. If you need to reheat, immerse the egg in warm water (60°C) for 10-15 minutes – this warms the egg and not change it.

Freshness test

Place egg in a bowl of water.

1. A fresh egg will lie flat.

2. An older egg will lift its blunt end toward the surface.

3. A very old egg will float.

Related story:

How to boil eggs plus four recipes to use them

Tags / Keywords: Lifestyle , boiled egg


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