It is hard to find food that is as versatile (and tasty) as eggs. Eggs are present in velvety sauces (Hollandaise, mayonnaise), fluffy soufflés, delicious desserts, meringues, cake, drinks, pie crusts and glazings. And more. But even preparing a simple egg can be done in numerous ways, with mouthwatering results.
On this page there are no complicated recipes, just instructions on the simplest way to boil or bake an egg. A list with historic and modern recipes with egg as main ingredient can be found here.
Eggs from chicken, duck, goose, quail
When one thinks of eggs, it is nearly always chicken eggs. But actually all eggs can be eaten. My father used to bring home large duck eggs or goose eggs for Sunday brunch, from which he prepared gigantic omelettes. On the other side of the spectrum are tiny quail eggs that – at least in the Netherlands – can be bought in well assorted food stores. They make lovely small fried eggs and stuffed quail eggs can be eaten elegantly in one bite.
All about eggs
How to boil an egg – How to poach an egg – Eggs in a ramekin – What is a fried egg – What is an omelette – What is a fluffy omelette – How to separate an egg – How to beat egg white – How to make scrambled eggs – Leftover egg white – Leftover egg yolks – Hoe blaas je een ei uit – Salmonella – How to store eggs – How determine the freshness of an egg – What is a kosher egg
It seems that the search query “How to boil an egg” is much looked at in search engines. Apparently, people need information on this subject.
Put very simply: eggs are boiled in boiling water. But even this simple description can cause endless discussions. There are two main points of contention:
1. How to prevent the egg-shell to crack when the air in the air cell expands through heating?
2. How long do eggs need to be boiled?
To start with the second question: for heaven’s sake, just go cook an egg and see what happens! For example, when one lives on a mountain, the water will boil at a much lower temperature because of the lower air pressure and the egg will take much longer. But where I live, at sea level in the Netherlands, it takes about two minutes of boiling when one starts with submerging the eggs in COLD water and start the timer the moment the water really boils to get a gooy egg, three and a half minutes for what my family calls ‘the perfect egg’ (egg white coagulated, yolk still runny), and from five minutes onwards the egg gets harder and drier until one ends up with horror eggs with a green circle around the yolk. That would take about ten minutes. Sometimes I forget to set the timer, then it is a surprise what egg we will get for breakfast.
Some people prefer to bring the water to the boil first, and then add the eggs. The cooking time will be about two minutes longer, and there is more chance of ending up with cracked eggs.
And how can one prevent the eggs cracking during boiling?
For starters, it is always best to first fill the pan with water, and then add the eggs. Some people like to use an egg piercer, to offer the expanding air in the egg an escape route during boiling. I had a very cheap one that lasted at least ten years. The replacement – also cheap – was so flimsy that it was impossible to get it out of the casing without damage. So since then I boil my eggs without piercing them. Starting with cold water, to make the air expand more gradually. Adding some vinegar to the water will help the egg white coagulate when some has leaked through a crack, so the egg shell is sealed again. It is also a good idea to let the water boil gently. When it is boiling vigorously, the eggs will bump into each other and the sides of the pan, causing them to crack.
After boiling, the eggs need to be immersed in cold water. This makes it easier to peel them. In Dutch this called ‘de eieren laten schrikken’; to scare the eggs. Fresh eggs are more difficult to peel then eggs that have been laid longer ago.
A soft-boiled egg must be eaten fairly soon after it has been boiled. It is at its best that way, but it is also the safest way because if there are bacteria present, they will only multiply while the egg is waiting to be consumed.
In my opinion, the electric egg boiler is a completely superfluous kitchen appliance.
An intermediate way between boiling and frying to prepare eggs is poaching it. The result is a soft-boiled egg, prepared out of its shell. It should be done in ample water that is almost boiling, and the egg must be very fresh. The older an egg is, the less difference there is between the thick albumin (egg white) and the thin albumin, and the more difficult it is to keep the egg together in a compact form. Adding some vinegar or lemon juice to the boiling water will help with making the white coagulate faster.
By the way, oil, clarified butter or hot lard can also be used to poach eggs, at a temperature of 140 to 150 °C (285 to 300 °F). In fact, the egg is being deep-fried. Simply use a small pan or wok, not a large deep-fryer. The egg will sink to the bottom of the pan, and detach itself again when it is done. It can then be easily taken out of the fat with a skimmer. See also this recipe for medieval poached eggs.
To poach eggs in water they have to be very fresh, But for deep-frying eggs, it is better to use older eggs. Fresh eggs contain too much moisture, causing the oil to spatter.
A variation of the poached egg is to coddle it. The French put them in ramekins (oeufs en cocottes). Grease a ramekin and sprinkle some pepper and salt and break an egg in it. Bring water to the boil in a casserole, taking care that the water level is below the rim of the ramekin. Boil the eggs for about ten minutes au-bain-marie. Of course, all kinds of ingredients can be added to the coddler or ramekin, or sprinkle grated cheese on top. In that case, do not use a cover and put the casserole in the oven.
The Japanese have their own way to prepare coddled eggs. They make chawanmushi, using decorative bowls with a lid. There is a difference with the French ramekin: the eggs are stirred and dashi (Japanese stock) is added. The perfect chawanmushi has not a single air bubble trapped in the egg custard. Some ingredients are added to the egg, like shii-take mushrooms or scampi.
Fried eggs, sunny side up used to be called kalfsoogen (calf’s eyes) in Dutch, today they are called spiegeleieren or mirror eggs. They are baked on one side only, with the yolk whole and still runny inside. The shiny yolk resembles an old-fashioned mirror, hence the name. The picture is a detail from the Arnolfini portrait by Van Eyck, painted in 1434.
When an egg is cracked in the pan, the difference between thick and thin albumen is clearly visible when it is fresh. With an older egg, the difference between the two kinds of white is less clear.
Some people put a cover on the frying pan to make sure the fried egg is well done. The yolk will then become covered with an unattractive white film. Last remark on the subject of fried eggs: using oil for frying eggs results in leathery egg white. Butter is better.
In Dutch language fried eggs with a pierced egg yolk are called fried eggs. I would call them failed fried eggs because the yolk has been broken. However, people who fear salmonella may prefer these kind of fried eggs, because they can be baked on both sides and are 100% food safe. However, these people should also stay away from home made mayonnaise and custard, and never eat a soft-boiled egg.
An egg can be whisked or beaten before frying. When it is not stirred during frying, the result will be an omelette. These are usually baked on both sides, because the bottom-side of the omelette will be too dark and tough by the time the top has coagulated. Omelettes can also be stuffed. The stuffing can be stirrred into the eggs before frying, or arranged on top of the omelette which is then folded over it. In that case the omelette will not be baked on both sides, the stuffing is put on the omelette while the top is still slightly moist. An omelette will be fluffier when some sparkling water is added just before baking.
Once more, the Japanese have their own way of making omelettes. Dashi is added to the beaten eggs, together with sugar and mirin. And it is also fried in a special way: the frying pan is square or oblong, and the omelette is rolled up during baking, resulting in a thick omelette shaped as a cylinder.
Scrambled eggs are made by stirring the beaten eggs during frying. The ‘scrambles’ available at breakfast buffets in hotels are hardly ever palatable.They are prepared from pasteurized egg and completely overdone. To top it off, they are kept in RVS-trays under infrared lamps to keep them warm, resulting in an unappetizing mess. Scrambling eggs is the fastest way to prepare eggs, barring eating them raw. They have to be taken from the fire just before being scrambled to satisfaction because the heat is still coagulating the egg after being put on a plate. When they are to be served with fried bacon or tomatoes, these must be prepared in advance.
Preferably use only butter to scramble eggs. Do not use oil or margarine.
The egg separator is the most superfluous object I know. Eggs have their own built-in separator: the two halves of the shell. Just transfer the raw egg from one half shell to the other, and the egg white will drop down. So, do not forget to this over a bowl. There is a small chance that the yolk will be pierced by a sharp point of the egg shell. And if the egg white contains even one small drop of the yolk, it is impossible to beat the egg white to peaks. So, the safest and cheapest egg separator is: a hand. The white sill slip through the fingers, the yolk will be left behind. This is not unhygienic, provided that tha hands are washed in advance, and rinsed well so they do not smell of soap.
If more than one egg needs to be separated, it is best to use several bowls. One to collect all whites, another to collect all the yolks, and a third bowl to separate the eggs above. because, hwn the yolk breaks when the last egg is separated, all the whites in the bowl are useless with regard to beating them. This way, it will never cost more than one egg.
This is very easy, as long as these two points are kept in mind:
1. When eggs are used regularly, just keep the eggs at room temperature, not in the refrigerator (see below). If for some reason eggs are kept in the refrigerator, let the egg come to room temperature before beating the white.
2. Even the slightest drop of fat will prevent the egg white to become stiff. This means: using clean bowls and beaters that have not accidentally be in contact with butter for example.
Whites are easier to beat when some salt is added. If sugar is added, this must be done after the whites are beaten. Add the sugar gradually and keep beating. Otherwise the white may lose air again.
A fluffy omelette is often sweetened. Beat the yolks with some sugar. Beat the whites separately with a pinch of salt. Melt butter in a frying pan, and temper yolk and white just before frying. Pour the egg mixture in the pan as soon as the butter has melted, fry on a high temperature for a short period to let the bottom side coagulate, then lower the heat and cover the pan with a lid. When the top is coagulated, the omelette is done. Because the omelette is sweetened, add some more sugar instead of salt and pepper. Just like fried-eggs-sunny-side-up, fluffy omelettes are baked on one side only. So keeping the heat low and covering with a lid is important to prevent the bottom side becoming leathery.
Some people eat egg white omelettes. I am not so inclined.
Preferably NOT in the refrgerator! The eggs will dry out and absorb smells from other ingredients because the egg shell is porous. Those plastic egg trays that always are present in the doors of refrigerators are completely superfluous. The best way to handle eggs is to buy not more eggs than are being used during one week’s time, and keep them in the cartons in a cupboard, or put them in a special decorative egg dish on the work top. It is important to always check the date on the eggs, in a supermarket there can be a difference of more than two weeks between he oldest and freshest eggs.
By the way, in a hot climate it is better to keep eggs in a refrigerator, but in an airtight container.
There is a simple way to check how old an egg is. Put it in a wide glass. Pour water in the glass containing 10% salt (meaning 1 tablespoon salt in ½ cup water). If the egg stays on the bottom of the glass, it is very fresh. If it floats near the surface, it is old. If it floats somewhere in between, the egg is not very fresh but can be used for all preparations, except maybe poaching in water. This method just checks how much air is present in the air cell of the egg. As I have already written: the egg shell os porous. So, if an egg is exposed to air for a longer time, moisture and carbon dioxide will escape, causing the volume of the ‘wet content’ to shrink and the air cell to grow.
Another method for checken whether an egg is fresh, is to break it in a saucer. A fresh egg clearly has two kinds of white, thick egg white that surrounds the yolk, and thin egg white on the outside. The older the egg, the less distinction there is between the two kinds of egg whites. In an old egg all the white is thin, and the yolk will break very easily because the surrounding membrane has become weaker.
The Easter-version of the Christmas tree is a branch of hazel or curly willow, hung with decorated eggs. These can be bought, mostly made from plastic. But it is much more fun to create original decoration for the Easter branch. The eggs must be emptied first, otherwise they are too heavy and perishable. How to empty eggs without cracking the shell? When I had to empty many eggs for a medieval egg dish I experimented, and this worked best for me:
Place the egg in an egg cup with the pointy side up. Take a thick needle and position the tip on the top of the egg. Now gently tap the needle with an object that is not too heavy; a hammer would be too much, I use the bottom of a small drinking glass, and hold the needle steady near the tip. When the needle has perforated the egg, turn the egg around and do the same at the blunt side of the egg. Depending on how the eggs will be hung in the Easter branch, carefully enlarge the hole on the side that will be underneath. I use the tip of the needle to lift small pieces of the shell. Now, stir the egg by inserting the needle or a toothpick through the hole and perforate the membrane around the yolk. If the yolk remains whole, it is nearly impossible to blow it through the small hole.
Hold the egg above a bowl with the larger hole downward, and blow through the small hole. The raw egg will drop out. Not an attractive sight, but it works. The raw eggs can be used for omelettes. To hang the eggs up, take a piece of yarn and tie it into a loop, with a small bead at the knot so the egg will not drop off. Insert the looped yarn from the inside through the small hole. The decoration of the eggs can be anything, I will not go into that here.
What to do with leftover whites and yolks?
Egg whites are probably more prone to being ‘leftover’ than yolks. They can be kept by freezing them, using for example an ice cube holder. Egg whites are used in soufflé, sorbet ice cream, meringues, to name a few applications. Egg white and icing sugar make excellent glazing for cakes and cookies.
Egg yolks can also be kept in the deep-freezer, but something has to be added or they can not be used anymore. They need to be stabilized by adding either sugar or salt. So, yolks are frozen in a sweet or savoury manner. Egg yolks are used in mayonnaise, custard, Hollandaise sauce, and to glaze pastry before baking.
Very Scary: Salmonella
Some people never eat anyrhing containing raw egg. Their eggs are boiled until the yolk is green, their fried eggs never have a sunny side, and when one serves them home-made mayonnaise they look as if someone is trying to poison them. Because the dish could be contaminated by salmonella. In all the years that I have cooked meals, I have used an innumerable amount of raw eggs in mayonnaise, salad dressing, tiramisu and many other dishes. The one time I did have a serious case of food poisoning, it was caused by a meal prepared in a restaurant. There is a French saying: “Those who like to eat well, will be sick once a year”. The risk of eating food that is contaminated by salmonella is small, and when a person is healthy the worst that will happen is loosing a few pounds. But the very young, elderly, pregnant women and people with an immune disease should not take unnecessary risks. When suspecting food poisoning, try to consume enough water and salt (stock!), and call the physician. It is also possible to buy pasteurized egg whites and egg yolks.
In some religions the consumption of blood is taboo. Blood is a sign of life. That is why according to Genesis IX:3-4 it is strictly forbidden to is ingest it (“Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything. But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it.”) Strangely enough, Christianity does not have a problem with blood as food but Judaism and Islam both do. Judaism is more strict than Islam: kosher food is always halal, but not all halal food is kosher. Only in the use of alcohol Islam is stricter. (Comparison between Judaic and Islamic dietary laws on wikipedia)
Why all this information on blood? Sometimes little specks of blood are visible when an egg is opened. And that means that the egg in question is treif, non-kosher. Every egg must be approved by the rabbi before it can be used in a kosher kitchen. To my knowledge, the halal kitchen is less strict.
In Jewish cookbooks like the Geïllustreerd Ritueel Kookboek (Illustrated ritual cookbook) with a rabbinal seal of approval from 1932 that was a present from my mother-in-law, one can see recipes with boiled eggs. How is that possible? By holding an egg in front of a strong light source eggs can be checked for freshness but also on bloodspecks. So how was this done before the invention of electricity? Do all Jewish recipes with boiled eggs date from recent times? When I asked about this in several Jewish food stores in the Netherlands, I was told that most people just boil and use all eggs.
(I wish to thank everyone who has inlightened me on this subject)
Laatste wijziging 1 December 2019