The perfect soft-boiled egg

I don’t often make soft-boiled eggs, partly because I can do an egg over-easy in half the time.

But once in a while, I attack the task of making a soft-boiled egg, which is not one of the easier techniques for this breakfast staple.  Poaching is the other tricky method.

I have tried over the years various techniques, even with an interesting microwave/steamer contraption given by a friend.

But I go back to the basics, tried and true.

Leave whatever number of eggs out overnight so they are room temperature.  (Otherwise, submerge them in lukewarm water for a while.)

Start the water – with a tablespoon of vinegar which aids in the peeling, eating process – to boil, then reduce the temp to a simmer.  Make sure you have enough water to cover the eggs.

Pierce the larger end of the egg with a pin and use a spoon to set it in the water.

Set your timer for 6 minutes for solid whites but fluid yoke.  This is for "large" eggs.  You can subtract or add a minute for size.  Size matters… so will altitude to a degree.

Put some ice in a small bowl of water.

When your timer dings, lift the eggs out of the hot water and put them briefly in the ice water to stop the internal cooking process.

I like soft-boiled eggs with toast.  Sometimes people make "soldiers", toast cut in strips which you can dip into the shell.

You can crack and peel off the top, as I did here.  The vinegar helped the peeling process.

Otherwise, if you have a knife with a bit of serration, just saw off the top.

I used a coffee-spoon this morning and had some pumpernickel toast.

No soldiers.  I just got to business.


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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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29 Responses to The perfect soft-boiled egg

  1. Well, as an Irish friend once said to me, “That’s a bit posh.”

  2. introibo says:

    soft boiled egg= underdone hard boiled egg…until I finally learned to just leave the thing in there and let it cook to death (at low temp, so it doesn’t bust) my hard boiled eggs would always be underdone and runny. Actually I hate hard and soft-boiled eggs – but make them for husband and kids for egg salad.

  3. dcs says:

    The ice-water bath also helps prevent the green skin from forming around the yolk of a hard-boiled egg.

  4. Ellen says:

    Eggs. Yellow and white slimy globs of pure evil. We hates them we do.

  5. jmoran says:

    Before this, the only person I ever heard talk about toast “soldiers” was my grandmother! Thanks for bringing up a good memory this morning.

  6. Ellen —
    More for us!

    You can eat all my chicken livers. That’s pure toxic evil, if you like.

  7. Joan M says:

    If I had to do that, I would never enjoy a soft boiled egg for breakfast!

    I take an egg out of the fridge, put it in a small saucepan, run ordinary cold water from the tap into the saucepan until the egg is almost covered. Place the pan on the gas, turn the gas on high and let the water come to the boil. Then continue to boil for 3 minutes. Take it out and your egg is nicely soft boiled.

  8. JohnE says:

    Did somebody say pizza? No? Ok, I’ll check back later.

    Mmmm, runny yolks. Gotta hate ‘em.

  9. Eggsellent!:<)!
    Love the soft-boiled egg. Will attempt this soon.

  10. Katie says:

    My husband who is Italian was taught as a child to put the egg in cold water and when it begins to boil pray the Our Father, Hail Mary and Gloria at a reasonable speed. With this method you don’t need an egg timer.

  11. wanda says:

    Simple gifts.

    Thanks Father, it looks delicious!

  12. rakesvines says:

    I am edified by your austere life style. It must be your Friday mortification. I also had soft boiled eggs mixed with rice and salt when I was young.

  13. momoften says:

    I have never had an egg like that, but it looks good. My 9 year old son loves making poached eggs for breakfast by himself…He is very good at that, and I am sure he will be intrigued with your eggs Father..

  14. Father, your pictures looked so delicious I tried your technique myself when I went home for lunch, sans soldiers. It was, yes, delicious! Thank you!

  15. Patikins says:

    I’m glad you had more success with today’s egg!

    I usually only eat eggs if they’re covered in cheese, onions, peppers or other tasty toppings. Or fried in bacon fat. Or “creamed eggs” (sliced hard boiled eggs in a roux) served over toast. But your egg does look good. That’s my mom’s favorite way to eat eggs. Maybe I’ll ask her to cook an extra one for me when I visit this weekend. Or maybe (gasp!) I can try cooking it for her since this is Mother’s Day weekend.

  16. Patikins says:

    My mom doesn’t serve hers in an egg cup. She has this talent for quickly slicing it in half and scooping out the egg halves without getting the yolk all over the plate.

  17. Melania says:

    I’ve always had the best luck using Julia Child’s method. Pierce the larger end of the egg with a pin. Starting from room temperature is a good idea but not necessary. Place the egg in cold water in a pan and bring it to a boil. As soon as a true boil is achieved, turn off the heat and move the pan to a cold burner. Wait 6 minutes for soft boiled, 11 minutes for hard boiled. You will never get that green lining around the yolk using this method. The white will never be rubbery.
    I had not heard about the vinegar trick for making eggs easy to peel. I’ll try it.

  18. The vinager trick worked very well, Melania.

  19. AnAmericanMother says:

    Melania,

    You really can’t go wrong with Ms. Child.

    For almost anything out of her massive 2 volume work on French cooking, though, you need LOTS of time. The beef burgundy from vol. 1 was excellent, but it took far more time in the kitchen than I can spare on any sort of regular basis. And my daughter was home from college to act as sous-chef, which is not ordinarily the case.

    My daily cookbook is the “old” (pre-1975) Rombauer/Becker Joy of Cooking, before the trendy foodies got hold of it and ruined it completely.

  20. PghCath says:

    My great-grandmother started nearly every day of her 97 years with a soft-boiled egg. What’s that about eggs not being good for you?

    Glad to see your latest adventure in the egg department was successful, Father. I’ll have to try this.

  21. MichaelKavanagh says:

    This explains the bird feeders :D

  22. MichaelKav: LOL! Well… no. I do get chicken eggs for these purposes.

  23. PostCatholic says:

    I hope you’ll forgive that I just giggled over a celibate saying, “Size matters.”

  24. Lori Pieper says:

    I looooooooove soft-boiled eggs with runny yolks. I’ll be sure to try this method sometime — if I have time.

  25. Lori Pieper says:

    I looooooooove soft-boiled eggs with runny yolks! I’ll be sure to try this method sometime — if I have time. (Mostly I just do as Joan M. does.

  26. Mrs. O says:

    Thanks for the tips especially about the vinegar. I was always told that fresh eggs were no good to soft boil. No matter what, they were a pain to peel. Do you know if this is true with the vinegar or not? Don’t want to waste my fresh eggs trying this. Was advised to keep them for 2 weeks IF I wanted to boil them like this.

  27. Thomas S says:

    I have good success making soft-boiled eggs with a rather simpler routine. Put the eggs in a pot of water. Bring to a full boil. Turn the flame down to a low simmer and leave the eggs on for 5 more minutes.

    Works rather well.

  28. Jayna says:

    I must have eaten soft-boiled eggs at least three times a week for breakfast throughout most of my childhood. I haven’t had one in a while, but my mother eats one every morning. And I love pumpernickel bread (or bagels), unfortunately the grocery store by my house never has it. Fantastic with cream cheese and lox.

  29. Peter in Canberra says:

    Dear Father, I have a gastronomic suggestion for you.

    Something that goes very well with the soft yolk of egg is Vegemite.

    Yes, this is an Australian thing, but toast spread with Vegemite with either soft boiled egg, or soft yolked fried egg, spread on top of that is, imho, very yummy.

    Give it a try.