Going Soft

When I was a child, I drove my parents crazy by insisting that any egg dish I was served be completely and thoroughly cooked. Any hint of jiggle was met with shrieks, revulsion and, usually, tears of betrayal. (My own mother was trying to POISON me!) My fried eggs were rubbery, my omelets were cremated and my scrambled eggs, in spite of the copious amount of cheese my family adds to said dish, crumbled off the fork in little pellets and fell to dust. I ate eggs like this for years, the yolks so dry that they were practically colorless and the whites shriveled up around the edges. To my shame, I can even remember making a bit of a scene in a diner in Texas when I was served eggs that I deemed ‘over easy’ when I had ordered them ‘over hard’. “You know,” said my mother, “MOST people do order their eggs over easy, so it was an understandable mistake.” My glowering look of scorn and petulance would be less retrospectively embarassing if it wasn’t for the fact that I was twenty-one at the time.

Enter Teacherman. He adores soft-boiled eggs. Even though by the time I met him I had mellowed slightly when it came to the dessication of my breakfast, I had never tried such a thing. It is true that I had read about soft-boiled eggs in many cookbooks, and even thought wistfully of how nice the recipes sounded, but concluded that I could never stomach the eggs themselves. The desire to please the one you love, however, has a powerful effect. And Teacherman already owned two egg cups, which I had to admit were pretty adorable.

So last spring, with great trepidation, I made soft-boiled eggs for the first time. We had them for a late Sunday breakfast with the season’s first asparagus, steamed and ready to dip in the liquid yolks. I followed the instructions for a 6-minute egg in How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman, taking some comfort from the fact that the timing was supposed to produce fully cooked whites, at least. I cooked them, ran them under cold water to stop the cooking, dried them on a kitchen towel, and plunked them into the egg cups. We carefully cracked and peeled off the top half-inch of the shells and broke through the yolk. The whites were, in fact, cooked through. The yolk was molten and, once salted and peppered, extraordinarily tasty. The asparagus made an excellent dipper, and the combination called up memories of asparagus in hollandaise. I was definitely a soft-boiled egg convert.

In the past year I’ve made soft-boiled eggs several times, often exactly how I made them the first time, with asparagus to dip in. Once I tried a recipe that called for tipping in a bit of caramel syrup and mixing it into the egg yolk. It was a bit like a deconstructed custard; not bad, but a bit too rich without the mitigating presence of a dairy product. A few weeks ago I was looking through a new Asian cookbook and discovered a chapter entirely on eggs, mostly softboiled. The lead picture showed a soft-boiled egg, completely peeled and split on a plate, sauced with a mixture of soy sauce, ginger and sesame oil, and sprinkled with scallions and chiles. This was immediately appealling.

For this past Sunday’s breakfast I prepared the recipe, liking the idea of Asian flavors after the previous night’s meaty Irish excess. It was a qualified success. Qualified because though the flavors were perfect and exactly what I wished, I took issue with the eggs’ cooking time. I followed the recipe exactly, plunking room temperature eggs into boiling water and letting them bubble for 4 minutes. I removed them, ran them under cold water for a second, and, with Teacherman assisting, began to peel.

“Ack!” he shouted, halfway through his first egg. His careful fingers were still too violent for the egg, which, just as he finished peeling it, split down the middle. He hurriedly tranferred it to one of the waiting plates. I was horrified to see that the egg was essentially raw in the middle. The membrane holding the yolk was intact, but surrounding it was a thick layer of gelatinous, near-transparent egg white. I wouldn’t say that I felt faint, but I was definitely non-plussed (and, admittedly, a little ill).

We finished our peeling and looked at the eggs. Given that two of them were split, we couldn’t put them back in the hot water, and even if we could, we wouldn’t have known for how long. I sighed and cheated: we stuck the plates in the microwave for a few seconds. The whites remained translucent, but at least they stopped being so jiggly. We poured over the sauce, sprinkled on the garnishes, and dove in. It really was extremely good. The sesame, soy and ginger both cut and blended with the richness of the egg yolk, reducing the ultra-creaminess that is sometimes too much early in the morning. The raw scallions and chiles perked up our tastebuds and cleared our palates for the next bite. It really was quite enjoyable, even if I did have to occasionally avert my eyes. Sadly, I’m not completely reformed from my egg tyranny; I will definitely make this dish again, but next time I plan to cook the eggs for six minutes.

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Published in: on March 21, 2007 at 8:41 am  Leave a Comment  

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