but… I don’t know how to hard-boil an egg.
Don’t get me wrong, I know how to cook eggs. I can poach one to the precise point that an oozing yolk can tango with a salad’s acidic vinaigrette. I can flip a sunny with little more than telekinesis. I can scramble in a double-boiler, separate fearlessly, and souffle without mercy. I can even whisk up a creme anglaise that makes ME want to eat more fruit. So overall aptitude isn’t the problem.
And, yes, I know how you’re SUPPOSED to hard-boil eggs. Boil water, egg, peel it after a while, right? You can tart it up any way you want, but you are still, basically, just boiling an egg. And I don’t know how to do it.
But this is where it gets kind of pathetic: I can SOUS VIDE an egg, but cannot satisfactorily boil one. I can put eggs in boiling water, and I either add salt or not add salt or either poke a hole or not poke a hole, and I can take them out of the boiling water and count how long it takes to dry (they say a hard boiled egg will dry in less than ten seconds) or do the “spin test,” but I just can never seem to get a decent egg out of the process.
On so many levels, this is just wrong.
I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit. As you recall, when we last left our hero, he had just executed a delicious Vietnamese pork dish for a few friends, and was, overall, quite satisfied with the outcome. But the eggs didn’t really work. I mean, they were edible- covering something in slow-cooked pork goo covers a multitude of lapses- but the whites were all broken up and the yolks rubbery and chalky tasting. This wasn’t acceptable: I can’t stand the idea of there being such a seemingly simple cooking task that is wholly out of my reach.
The more I thought about the problem, the more I realized that I actually had two problems to solve.
The first was simple. I had to learn how to hard boil an egg.
It took some research and practice and a layer of microfractured shell all over my kitchen floor. But I think I learned a couple of key things, most importantly, the right method. Eggs curdle at about 158 F, well below the temperature of the boiling water. The internal chemistry can also work against you: there is sulfur in the egg white and iron in the yolk . At some point, these two can combine to form sulfur dioxide, that nasty green ring that can form around the yolk of an overcooked egg.
The key is to use a method that minimizes the egg’s contact with the higher temperatures between 160 and 212, but still provides enough thermal ooomph to actually cook the egg. To boil an egg. place one egg in a small saucepan, and cover it with cold water. Bring the water JUST to a boil, then remove from the heat, cover the pan, and let the egg sit “for a time.” Remove the egg, douse with cold water to prevent further cooing, peel and eat.”
The picture below was taken after my first attempt, in which the aformentioned sitting time lasted precisely six minutes. The white wasn’t rubbery and the yolk was cooked to USDA standard and didn’t taste chalky or overly dry.
The only problem? This was not what I wanted. I wanted a richer yolk and a more supple white. I want it to wiggle when I shake the plate and the insides to show a little life when I attack the thing with my fork. Which brings me to the second, more interesting problem.
I would argue that many cooks, myself included, spend a disproportionate amount of time figuring out how to do something, and not enough time conceptualizing the end result. I’m not saying, specifically, that most cooks are just blindly following recipes. But this experience with eggs taught me to give more though at the outset to what, specifically, the result should be, especially when you’ve never systematically tried to cook something before. This helped my focus as I went through each step, being able to relate the “what” to the “why,” and the results paid off.
Which is why it took no fewer than four additional eggs to arrive at three minutes and fourty-five seconds in my little pot, with eggs cooked at water from my little tepid faucet that never seems to get hot enough or cold enough. I figured out what I wanted.
And then, of course, you have to serve them properly.