By request, I am offering the third installment of "Eggspert Advice." Thanks to your feedback, this week we will tackle boiling, coddling and poaching. Next week, the fourth and final installment of "Eggspert Advice" will cover fried eggs and egg chemistry.
Hard Boiling Made Easy
Every cloud may have a silver lining, but no hard boiled egg yolk should have a green ring. This common problem is easy to avoid as long as you are attentive and precise about the boiling point and cooking time. So, use the aptly named egg timer to be exact. Also, remember the importance of egg size as discussed in Eggspert Advice: Part 1. Use older eggs, as they are much easier to peel. For large eggs, follow one of two methods.
1. Cover the egg(s) with cold water in a small pot. Bring to a rapid boil, and immediately reduce to a simmer and cook uncovered for exactly 10 minutes.
2. Cover the egg(s) with cold water in a small pot. Bring to a boil, and then immediately cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid and remove entirely from the heat. Let the eggs sit for exactly 15 minutes, then remove from the water.
In both cases, you will want to rinse the eggs in cold water before peeling to stop the eggs from cooking further and to avoid burning your hands when peeling. You will have perfect hard-boiled eggs without any trace of a green ring. The yolks will be tender and bright yellow. If soft boiled eggs are more your taste, simply reduce the cooking time in the first method from 10 minutes to 3 minutes (medium boiled eggs would be 5 minutes).
A fun fact: if you prick the egg shell with a sewing needle prior to cooking, it will release the air from the air cell that normally traps the egg white (albumen), which forms that flat surface during cooking.
Coddle Me When?
What is a coddled egg? Basically boiled eggs are coddled eggs--soft, medium or hard. But many of us consider a coddled egg one that is gently cooked (the word itself implies as much) so that it remains soft and runny. In this case, you gently lower the egg into boiling water for a mere two minutes. One reader with the same perception asks, "What in the world do you do with the egg once it's coddled?" Good question.
The most common application today of coddled eggs is for Caesar Salad Dressing. A raw egg yolk is used in this classic recipe to emulsify and add a creamy texture and flavor. Since the consumption of raw eggs is considered both dangerous and unhealthy due to salmonella, the egg is coddled to kill off such hazardous bacteria. Other than that, coddled eggs are eaten on their own, very similar to a soft-boiled egg. The difference is that the egg is cooked outside the shell in an "egg coddler," a porcelain ramekin with a tight-fitting lid that is immersed into heated water and then removed when the eggs are done for serving.
The Poaching Coach
Poaching is probably one of the more difficult ways to prepare eggs, but also one of the more delicate and elegant. Unlike hard boiled eggs, fresh eggs make the best poached eggs because the eggs whites hold their shape better (so does adding vinegar to the water, which is a standard technique in poaching eggs).
To poach eggs, combine 2 quarts water with 1/4 cup distilled white vinegar in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Keep the eggs very cold, until you are ready to drop them into the water, since cold raw albumen will contract when it hits the hot water, allowing it to hold its shape better. Eggs should be poached in simmering water, but the first egg can go into boiling water because its cold temperature will help to cool the poaching liquid.
Many eggs can be poached at once, but is easiest to poach one egg at a time. Crack an egg into a small ramekin. Using a spatula or wooden spoon, briskly swirl the inside of the pan to make a vortex in the center of the hot water. As the vortex is at full speed, drop the cracked egg into the water positioning the ramekin as close to the water as possible. Continue stirring the keep the vortex going until the egg's shape has formed. The vortex will force the egg white to encase the yolk, forming a spherical shape. Also, once the outer egg white has formed and hardened a bit, the egg will not stick to the bottom of the pan.
Cook the egg for about 3 minutes. Monitor the water temperature to ensure that the egg poaches at a bare simmer and adjust the heat accordingly. Boiling water will make tough and rubbery whites. Remove the egg with a slotted spoon and gently press the egg with your finger to test its doneness. Poached eggs should have set whites and runny yolks.
When the egg is cooked to your liking, gently plunge into a bowl of ice water, which rinses off the vinegar and stops the eggs from cooking further, much like "shocking" vegetables. Once the egg is cold, trim off any excess with a paring knife and place it in a bowl of fresh water in the refrigerator.
Repeat the process for each egg until you have all the eggs you need for service. When you are ready to serve the poached eggs (think Eggs Benedict for six at an elegant brunch!), simply lower them with a slotted spoon into salted simmering water for about one minute to make them hot and seasoned. This is the poached egg equivalent to "flashing." Once they have been reheated, drain them on paper towels before serving.