A beautiful perfect soft-boiled eggHow do you boil eggs?

Cooking the perfect boiled egg takes care. Even the simplest dishes take a degree of delicacy and attention if you want to get them just right. And of course, it all depends on how you like your eggs; personally, I'm a fan of a soft, runny yolk but a white that is wobbly. In this article I'll take you through a couple of different methods and recipes that produce great results whether you want soft-boiled or hard-boiled eggs.

Guidelines for boiling an egg

First of all, there are a few rules you need to adhere to before beginning the cooking process:

  1. With extremely fresh eggs (bought within the last couple of days) add on an extra 30 seconds to all the timings given in the recipes below.
  2. It's best to use a very small saucepan to boil eggs; once the water starts to bubble in a large pan, they are likely to collide and crack.
  3. Always use a timer. Don't estimate or guess; this is a surefire way to get over-runny or very hard and stodgy results.
  4. If you over-boil eggs, they'll turn out rubbery and the yolk may even go black.
  5. It's best not to boil eggs that have just been taken out of the fridge because if you place them straight into very hot water, they're likely to crack.
  6. The water only ever needs to simmer; don't get it so hot that it fast-boils.
  7. The pressure of boiling can sometimes cause eggs to break in the pan. If you pin-prick a small hole in one end of the shell, the steam will escape and release the pressure, meaning it's less likely that the eggs will crack.
  8. Boiled eggs aren't the same without soldiers so get the toaster going about half way through the cooking time of the eggs to make sure your bread doesn't go cold whilst you wait.

OK, now we've gone through the basics, let's get to the methods for cooking perfect soft-boiled and brilliant hard-boiled eggs.

Method 1 for beautiful soft-boiled eggs

Soft boiled egg with a runny yolkI usually use this method if I'm just cooking for myself as I find it produces the exact results I like.

Fill a small pan with enough water to cover the eggs. Bring it to a simmer on the hob. Carefully and swiftly lower the eggs (one by one) into the pan using a spoon. Grab your timer and set it for exactly 1 minute. After the minute's up, take the pan off the heat, cover the pan and now set the timer again for one of the following timings depending on what results you'd like to achieve.

  • Leave the eggs in the water for 6 minutes if you like a really runny yolk and a soft white that is set but not hard.
  • Leave the eggs in the water for 7 minutes if want a firmer result; the yolk will still be creamy (but not as runny) and the white will be much firmer.

Method 2 for great soft-boiled eggs

This method isn't necessarily better but you have a little more control over the exact consistency. The downside is it will take a little longer to achieve the perfect boiled egg.

Firstly, place your eggs in a small saucepan and cover them entirely in cold water. Now place the pan on the hob and turn the heat up high. Once the water starts to boil, reduce the heat until the water is calmly simmering and start your timer.

  • Leaving the eggs for a further 3 minutes will give you a very soft-boiled result with a runny yolk for dipping your bread in.
  • If you leave them simmering for 4 minutes the white will be set and the yolk will be creamy.
  • 5 minutes will mean that the entire egg will be somewhat set, but the yolk will still be soft and squishy.

Hard-boiled eggHearty Hard-boiled Eggs

If you're not a fan of soft-boiled eggs (as many people aren't) you may prefer hard-boiled. It's also useful to know how to produce really good hard-boiled eggs as many other recipes require their use. Of course they'll need to be peeled first and this can be tricky when using very fresh eggs, so rule number one for the hard-boiled method is try to use eggs that are at least 5 days old.

Put your eggs in a small saucepan and pour over enough cold water to completely cover them. Bring the water to a simmer, then start the timer. 

  • 6 minutes will leave a slightly soft yolk (but still cooked).
  • 7 minutes from this point will make the eggs hard all the way through.

Once you've cooked the eggs, run cold water over them for at least a minute. Then transfer them to a bowl of cold water and leave them in there for up to three minutes or until they are cold enough to handle. Now you need to peel them.

How to Peel Hard-Boiled Eggs

After you've bathed the eggs in cold water as described above, tap them all over on a hard surface to crack the shells. Next, hold each one individually under a running tap and slowly start to peel. It's easiest to begin peeling from the wider end and the cold water will help flush away any bits of shell that are stubbornly hanging on. Once the shell has been removed, put the eggs back into the bowl of cold water until they are cold throughout. It's really important to cool them as rapidly as possible otherwise they continue to cook and may be overdone producing a blackened yolk and a rubbery texture to the white. 

NOTE: The recipes outlined above are for large eggs. If you are using small or medium, reduce the timings appropriately. If you are using extra-large, you'll need to add some time. 

Handy hint: You can tell how old an egg is by testing how much air is in the shell. Place it in a glass of cold water. If it sinks to the bottom in a horizontal position, it's very fresh. If it tilts up or settles in a semi-horizontal state, it's probably about a week old. If it goes into a vertical position, it is more than likely stale. For the perfect boiled egg, it shouldn't be really fresh; ideally 3-5 days old.