When it comes to recipes and cooking, I get more questions and comments about eggs than anything else. Though even the great French chefs of today can’t confirm it, legend has it that the French toque contains 100 folds to represent 100 ways to make eggs. Without a doubt, eggs can be confounding. They can be delicate and devious, with mere seconds separating perfection and ruination. There are also many myths about eggs, perhaps the most prevalent is that it is easier to peel an older egg than a fresher one. I have found it makes no difference how old the egg is; it’s all about technique.
I have spent many years perfecting the basics of egg cookery. Along the way I discovered some simple tricks that have proven foolproof. They may seem counterintuitive or go against everything you’ve read or heard (for example, to make scrambled eggs, you must add milk and cook them “low and slow”), but trust me, once you conquer these methods, you’ll never fear eggs again.
PERFECT SCRAMBLED EGGS
Crack two eggs per person into a medium-sized bowl. Whip the eggs with a wire whisk until thoroughly combined and frothy. Meanwhile, heat a medium-sized nonstick skillet over low heat. Add two tablespoons of butter and swirl it around to evenly coat the surface. Pour the beaten eggs into the pan and watch closely. As soon as curds begin to form, crank the heat to high, and stir gently but consistently with a wooden spoon. (For larger curds, fold the eggs rather than stirring them.) Remove the eggs from the heat just before they are done (if they look done in the pan, they will be overdone on the plate) and serve immediately.
PERFECT HARD-BOILED EGGS (AND HOW TO PEEL THEM)
Gently lower desired number of eggs into a medium-sized saucepan and add just enough water to completely cover. Bring water to a strong simmer and then turn off heat. Leave pan on burner and cover. Set timer for 11 minutes for just-done hard-boiled eggs (best for eating), 13–14 minutes for harder-boiled eggs (best for deviled eggs). Run eggs under cold water for 30 seconds.
To peel the eggs: Drain water and gently roll eggs around in the pan to crack the shells. While running one egg under a small stream of water, find the air pocket at the large end and flick the shell with your thumb to loosen the inner and outer membrane and shell from the egg (the membrane is opaque and the texture is rubbery like a blown-up balloon, while the egg white will be smooth and slippery). Once the membranes and shell are loosened from the egg white, you should be able to easily peel the entire shell away using your thumb and index finger. If you get stuck, return to flicking the shell with your thumb until you loosen the membranes and shell again. (This peeling technique also works for soft-boiled eggs.)
PERFECT SOFT-BOILED EGGS
Add one inch of water to a medium-sized saucepan, and bring to a simmer over medium-low heat. Carefully place desired number of eggs into the water and cover the pan. Cook for exactly 7 minutes. Remove from heat and run under cold water for 30 seconds. I prefer medium soft-boiled eggs, so that the whites are fully cooked and the yolks are slightly runny. For softer boiled eggs (slightly soft whites, very runny yolks) cook 5–6 minutes. True aficionados can invest in an egg topper such as the one made by Rösle (around $20) to cleanly crack the top of the eggshell so it’s easily and neatly removed. Serve immediately in eggcups with “soldiers” (thin strips of buttered toast) for dipping.
PERFECT POACHED EGGS
Fill a large French oven or low-walled, wide stockpot with water and set over medium-low heat. Crack desired number of eggs into individual ramekins or small bowls. When the water is gently simmering, add a splash of vinegar (this helps the whites to stay together). Using a slotted spoon, stir the water to create a whirlpool and gently slide the eggs in one at a time (this winds the egg whites around the yolk). Don’t crowd the pan — if you’re cooking for a large group, do the eggs in batches of four. (You can also partially poach the eggs ahead of time, then finish cooking just prior to serving.) Set the timer for 4 minutes. Prepare a plate with a clean cotton kitchen towel or a paper towel. Using the slotted spoon, remove each egg gently from the water and set on the towel to drain. Serve immediately with toast, hash browns, or grits, or on top of English muffins with Hollandaise sauce and a sprinkle of paprika.
PERFECT SUNNY-SIDE-UP AND OVER-EASY EGGS
Heat a frying pan over low heat for five minutes (use an 8–10-inch pan for two eggs and a 12-inch pan for four eggs). Crack eggs into individual ramekins or small bowls. Add 2 tablespoons vegetable oil to the pan and swirl to coat. Working quickly, pour one to two eggs into one side of the pan, then the remaining one to two eggs into the other side of the pan. Cover the pan, increase heat to medium-high, and cook for exactly 1 minute. Remove pan completely from heat and let stand covered for 15–45 seconds for runny yolks (white around edge of yolk will be barely opaque), 45 seconds to 1 minute for slightly runny yolks and opaque whites, and about 2 minutes for medium-set yolks. For sunny-side-up eggs: Use spatula to transfer eggs from pan to plate. For over-easy eggs: Prior to letting eggs stand, gently flip the eggs over with a spatula, then flip them right side up onto a serving plate.