One of my favorite leisure-morning breakfasts is the soft-boiled egg. I love eggs anyway, for breakfast, lunch or dinner, but the soft-boiled egg is special to me for several reasons. I enjoy the ritual of timing the eggs, of fishing them out of the hot water and centering them in the little blue-flowered egg cups my husband bought us one Christmas. We slice off the tops with a special tool, sprinkle a few grains of salt and use the special little spoons to scoop the white from the tops. Then we employ our favorite toasted (sometimes buttered) breads, torn into bits to carefully dip into the yolk.
It’s a relaxed, slow way to eat an egg, not suited for the rush-rush of the workday week. Soft-boiled eggs for breakfast signals that this part of the day, at least, will be unhurried, even contemplative, if only for a short time.
I wasn’t always a fan, though. My first encounter was with the specimens served to my aging grandmother, who refused to eat them without a great deal of coaxing by my grandfather and her caregiver. Even then, Nini nearly always managed to toss some of the egg to the floor or hide it in her napkin, her last stand against being led and fed by others at this stage of life. Not exactly an appetizing introduction.
No, I stuck to fried, scrambled — even poached for a time — and of course the trusty hard-boiled variety. Who on earth would want to eat a soft-boiled egg, an egg that admitted up front that it wasn’t fully cooked?
Then I married; and a year later we decided to quit our jobs and pull up stakes for a grand adventure. For two months, we traveled across America and Canada before settling in Southern California and finding new jobs.
One of our stops was in Winnipeg, Manitoba. We visited the tourist bureau there in search of lodging. For a lark, we picked up a list of bed and breakfast homes in the area. This was when B&Bs were truer to their roots: an inexpensive stay, just an extra bed in someone’s home, and breakfast the next morning provided by the hosts.
We were on a journey of adventure, so we decided to try one. We called and reserved our room for the grand price of $28. Told to arrive around 5 p.m., we visited some city sights and headed out about 4:30 p.m. for a drive across the city.
Our hosts were Helen and George Carsted, a middle-aged couple: He was a school principal, she a former schoolteacher turned real estate agent. Their home in a Winnipeg suburb was a split-level, and we had a pleasantly roomy bedroom on the upper floor and use of a private bath. Helen also volunteered the use of her washer and dryer.
The Carsteds were friendly — you’d have to be to want to share your home with strangers, even nice ones like we were. They offered restaurant recommendations for that evening, and even gave us our own house key. After we returned from dinner, Greg and Mr. Carsted sat by the fire in the living room and chatted, and Mrs. Carsted and I visited while I did our laundry. She was babysitting her grandchildren, whom she would ferry home later that evening.
The next morning, Mr. Carsted was off to work, and Greg and I awaited our first bed-and-breakfast breakfast. What would be served? Pancakes? Waffles? Omelets?
Mrs. Carsted was ready for us at 9 a.m. with cold cereal to start. Then came a basket covered with a green linen napkin: “I’ve got soft-boiled eggs and toast for you,” she announced with a big smile.
Greg and I looked at each other. We could hardly refuse to eat the eggs our delightful hostess was providing. I took a deep breath. “You’ll have to show us how to eat these,” I said. “We’ve never had them before.”
Unperturbed by her gauche young guests, Mrs. Carsted sat down and proceeded to teach us. Tentative at first, we quickly mastered the skill of beheading the eggs, then dipping buttered toast fingers into the deep-yellow yolks.
Those eggs were a small revelation, but also a lesson in humility: Had we not admitted our ignorance, we would not have been able to enjoy this breakfast offering for near on 30 years. Instead, we have eaten them fearlessly ever since.
The rest of the breakfast, recorded in my travel diary, was freshly pureed tomato juice, hot tea, and cinnamon buns. But the soft-boiled eggs became our tradition, a reminder of that grand two-month expedition to places unknown, meeting new people, learning new things.
Now, on Sunday mornings, with a fresh-brewed pot of tea before us and the scent of slightly burned toast in the air, Greg and I often think of our Winnipeg adventure as we crack into our soft-boiled eggs. Such a simple gift, that left such a lasting memory. Thank you, thank you, thank you, Mrs. Carsted.
HOW TO MAKE SOFT-BOILED EGGS
Fill a small- to medium-sized saucepan with enough tap water to cover 1-3 medium to large eggs. Bring the water to a boil; with a spoon, gently but quickly lower each egg into the boiling water. Once the last egg is in, set a timer for 3 minutes and 30 seconds. (That’s how we like ours.) Let the eggs come back to the boil and continue boiling until the timer goes off.
Use the spoon to scoop up the eggs quickly and set them into their egg cups. (If you don’t have an egg cup, improvise with a small liqueur glass or whiskey jigger.) Use an egg topper to slice away the top of the egg and shell (don’t forget to eat the white that’s in the shell top), or use a knife to crack into the top of the shell and gently work your way around it.
The egg should be on the slightly solid side of semisolid — the white should be cooked, but the yolk should be semiliquid. (If it’s hard-boiled, you’ll know you’ve cooked it too long.) Toast some bread or English muffins to your liking; butter the slices if you wish, then slice or tear them into pieces that will fit into the open end of the egg to dunk in the yolk. You can scoop out the rest with a small spoon, adding salt and pepper as you go.
If you want to cook more than 3 eggs, you’ll need to adjust your cooking time. For a thorough look at the process, check out Cook’s Illustrated/America’s Test Kitchen piece on soft-boiling eggs here: https://www.americastestkitchen.com/episode/407-three-ways-with-eggs
And p.s. If one of the eggs cracks, just let it cook with the others and leave it in the pan when you remove the whole eggs. Cover the pan, turn off the heat, and let it sit for another 10 minutes. Then run it under cold water (it gets into the crack, making it easier to peel) and refrigerate it until you need a hard-boiled egg for something!
(c) copyright Laura Groch 2014