Go to work on an egg

My egg cracked despite sticking to Mrs Beeton’s instructions
Delia has her own instructions on how to boil the perfect egg

My favourite breakfast item has to be the good old egg. I have eggs in one form or another most days of the week, usually scrambled or boiled, but my favourite ‘treat’ breakfast is poached eggs with avocado on toast. Because I eat so many, I buy the best quality I can, free-range and from Yorkshire producers. We are very lucky in our part of North Yorkshire to have very good village shops that stock excellent local produce, and if I’m passing one I like to stock up on good quality eggs.

You can always tell you’ve got a good egg, because the yolk will be a rich yellow-gold and, when cracked open, the white doesn’t run away, but holds its own on the plate like a ‘not quite set’ jelly. If you like to poach eggs, then the fresher the better, as they hold together when gently dropped into a swirling rolling boil (a splash of vinegar in the water also helps them keep their shape).

Having three grown-up children, I am at the point where they are beginning to fly the nest, with one son already living independently in Leeds, and another preparing to head off to university in September (if you’re wondering about the third, he’s doing an apprenticeship which pays him peanuts so it’s unlikely he’ll be able to afford to leave home for some time!). So they are beginning to learn how to fend for themselves in the real world. But I am very confident when I say that I don’t think a single one of them knows how to boil an egg.

I can almost hear the gasps of horror among you all reading this, and yes, I take full responsibility for it as I have neglected their education when it comes to being able to cook. I’ve been too ready to make their food for them, and when it comes to feeding themselves when I’m not around, they generally don’t eat, or buy fast food. As much as I protest, they are adults and as such, are old enough to make their own bad decisions.

They have been known to do simple things, like beans or scrambled eggs, but I have never known them to boil an egg. It is meant to be the simplest of cooking tasks, and yet there is so much more to it than just placing an egg in water and cooking it. There are so many variables to consider, such as how big the eggs is, how fresh it is, whether you want soft, medium or hard boiled, how hot to have the water, how long to leave it in the water, and the most difficult problem, how to stop the egg shell cracking?

Experienced egg-boilers know that placing an egg in hot water straight from the fridge will make it crack. It is far safer to start with cold water, and gently bring it to the boil.

But, according my dad’s column from 15th March 1980, Victorian domestic goddess, Mrs Beeton, has the definitive method of boiling an egg. In her 1861 ‘Book of Household Management’, she declares, ‘When fresh eggs are placed into a vessel full of boiling water, they crack because the eggs, being well filled, the shells give way to the efforts of the interior fluids, dilated by heat. If the volume of the hot water be small, the shells do not crack because the temperature is reduced by the eggs before the interior dilation can take place.” In other words, don’t put your eggs in a deep pan of water, but keep it shallow. But I tried this method, and found the shell cracked anyway!

She adds that eggs can never be ‘too fresh’ when using them for boiling, although if they have just been laid, they need to be cooked for slightly longer than those that are three to four days old.

Incidentally, today’s Queen of the Kitchen, Delia Smith, says that for the perfect soft-boiled egg, place them into gently simmering water for exactly one minute, and then remove from the heat, cover, and leave for a further five minutes for average-sized eggs, and six minutes for larger eggs. Add or subtract 30 seconds depending on the size of the egg.

What I’d like to know is, what is your failsafe method of boiling your eggs?

Read more at countrymansdaughter.com. Follow me on Twitter @countrymansdaug

This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times on 13th and the Gazette & Herald on 11th March 2020

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