Cooking Eggs

 

The art of cooking a perfect egg is simple - once you know how. The techniques shown here may seem very basic, but they are an essential part of every good cook's repertoire.

BOILING

Some cooks put eggs in cold water to start, others in hot. The hot-water method shown here is best for accurate timing. Always use fresh eggs at room temperature - the shells of eggs taken straight from the refrigerator are more likely to crack.

1. Put the eggs in a pan of gently bubbling water and add a pinch of salt. Start timing from the moment the water returns to the boil.

2. For soft-boiled eggs, simmer gently for 3-4 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and cut off the tops with a knife.

3. Remove the top part of the shell and any small pieces that have fallen into the egg. The white should be just set, the yolk runny.

HARD-BOILED

Simmer for 6-10 minutes. Plunge immediately into cold water, to prevent greying around the yolk, then peel.

CAVIAR EGGS

For an elegant breakfast or brunch, serve soft-boiled eggs Russian-style.

Soft-boil the eggs and cut off the tops following the directions above, then spoon in a little caviar, or red lumpfish roe as shown here.

POACHING

Very fresh eggs and a wide, shallow pan are essential for successful poaching. For accurate timing, cook no more than four eggs at a time.

Add 1 tbsp wine vinegar and a tarragon sprig to boiling water. Do not add salt. Turn off the heat, crack in the eggs and cover. Let stand until the whites are opaque, 3 minutes.

BAKING

It's tricky to get the whites set and the yolks runny at the same time when baking eggs. Here are two methods, the classic French oeufs en cocotte and the more unusual Mexican huevos rancheros. Stand the dishes on paper towels when baking in a bain marie, to prevent overcooking and cracking the china.

OEUFS EN COCOTTE

Put eggs in buttered ramekins and add 2 tbsp cream and seasonings to each one. Cover and bake in a bain marie at 180°C for 6-8 minutes.

HUEVOS RANCHEROS

Put cooked sliced peppers and onions in individual gratin dishes. Top each with an egg. Cover and bake at 180°C for 8-12 minutes. Top with salsa.

SCRAMBLING

The secret of making perfect, creamy-textured scrambled eggs is to cook them over a low heat and patiently stir them all the time. Never attempt to rush scrambled eggs or they will be stiff and rubbery. For two servings, allow 4 eggs, 2 tbsp cream or milk and seasonings to taste.

1. Put the eggs in a jug with the cream or milk and salt and pepper to taste. Whisk with a fork for 1 minute. The seasoning prevents streaking.

2. Heat enough butter to coat the bottom of a frying pan. When the butter is foaming, pour in the egg mixture.

3. Stir constantly with a wooden spoon over a low heat for 5-8 minutes, then stir for 1-2 minutes off the heat. Serve immediately.

ADDITIONS TO SCRAMBLED EGGS

Many ingredients can be whisked into eggs before they are scrambled or while cooking to add texture and flavour.

• In the Basque dish pipérade, onions, peppers and mushrooms are fried, then the eggs are stirred in. Alternatives include chopped ham or pesto.

• One famous dish, Hangtown Fry, originated during the 1849 gold rush in California. It combines deep-fried breaded oysters with scrambled eggs.

• The Chinese make a dish called ''red, green and yellow" - cubes of tomato and cucumber mixed with scrambled eggs.

SHALLOW-FRYING

For most people, the perfect fried egg has a runny yolk and a set white. There are two ways of achieving this - by keeping the egg yolk "sunny-side up" during frying and basting it with hot fat, or by turning it "over easy" halfway through. This second method is less popular because the yolk can easily be broken during turning, and it loses its bright yellow colour.

SUNNY-SIDE UP

Heat a shallow layer of oil or butter in a frying pan until hot but not smoking. Add the eggs and fry over a moderate heat, basting constantly with the hot fat, for 3-4 minutes. Baste the white only to keep the yolk runny, or the white and the yolk, as you like.

NEATLY-SHAPED EGGS

Coat the bottom of a frying pan with oil, then place a metal pastry cutter (stainless steel is preferable) in the pan and heat until hot. Slide the egg into the cutter and fry as for sunny-side up eggs. Remove cutter carefully before removing the egg.

DEEP-FRYING

This French technique is often used for eggs that are to be served on croûtes. Olive oil gives a delicious flavour, but other oils can be used. Butter is not suitable - it will burn.

Heat about 2 cm oil in a deep frying pan until it is very hot but not smoking. Add 1 egg, spoon the hot oil over it and fold the white over the yolk to enclose it. Cook for 1 minute. Remove the egg with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Repeat with more eggs.