When the water comes to the boil, I reduce it to a gentle simmer and cook it, uncovered, for three minutes and 50 seconds. At this point, the white should be set, but still have the slightest tremble about it, and the yolk should have a flowing heart that is just starting to set around its circumference.I say should, because sometimes it doesn’t happen that way. In French Provincial Cooking she gives no fewer than five different ways to boil an egg.Every damn book I pick up reveals yet another sure-fire hint designed to produce the perfect boiled egg. In the first, she runs the egg under cold water to prevent cracking, then places it gently into simmering – not boiling – water.
In the second, she covers an egg with cold water in a little pan When the water begins to bubble, the egg is done. In need of another opinion, I retreat to Mrs David, and discover she, too, did far too much research. In her treatise “How Not to Boil an Egg”, she gives two main ways of soft boiling. Once broken, it reveals extraordinarily contrasting colours, like a setting sun on the shimmering white sands of a distant planet; and contrasting textures of caramel cream and gummy, molten ooze.
Such a serious matter as boiling an egg deserves serious deliberation, so I consult my favourite food writer, the late M F K Fisher.
Just the plain-boiled fact of how one likes one’s egg done (firm white, runny in the centre), and how to achieve it. A boiled egg, you see, is not merely an egg that has been boiled. It is a self-contained package, an irresistible alliance, of violence and nursery rhymes To get into it, you must destroy it. Even Beijing’s famous Dragon and Phoenix, a 10-plate Imperial banquet dish of finely cut meats, vegetables, and fish in shapes representing dragons, birds, crabs and Chinese characters no longer holds any terrors for me, although I’m not sure I’ll be doing it again. There is no room for error in boiling an egg; no margin for creativity or whim, and no place to hide if it is less than perfect.