The Psychology of Boiling the Perfect Egg

The Psychology of Boiling the Perfect Egg© Jupiterimages/

Do you want the control freak’s method or the laissez-faire system? They both work. A lot of cookbooks want you to think there’s only one way to do something — their way, of course! In some cases, that’s true. If you want to beat egg whites for an angel food cake, you can’t allow even a speck of yolk to get into the whites or they won’t beat up into a meringue. But more often, there are several ways to do something — like boil an egg.

The Control Freak’s Method

The control freak’s way is to bring the water to a boil and then place the eggs carefully into it. Cover the pan, and when the water returns to a boil, set the timer for 3 minutes for soft-boiled eggs or 13 minutes for hard-boiled. When the timer goes off, remove the pan from the stove and drain off the water. You’ll probably be eating the soft-boiled egg immediately, but if you intend to refrigerate the hard-boiled ones, first run cold water over the eggs until they’re no longer hot. (That will also make them easier to peel.)

The Lazy Man’s Method

The easygoing laissez-faire method doesn’t require a timer. Start by putting the eggs in the pan and covering them with cold water. Put the pan on a burner over high heat, and cook just until the water comes to a boil. Turn off the heat immediately and leave the eggs in the hot water, covered. After 20 minutes (you can use a timer if you want to — this is the laissez-faire way, after all) the eggs will be hard-boiled to the same degree as they are following 13 minutes of constant cooking. But you’ll have helped combat global warming by saving 13 minutes of energy usage. There’s nothing sacred about the 20-minute requirement; that’s merely the minimum. You can let them sit in the water much longer, although eventually the whites will become a little rubbery and a greenish ring will form around the yolk. (It’s harmless, but some people find it unsightly.) Eggs will be soft-boiled under this method after sitting in the hot water for 5 minutes. There’s no reason for any supposed non-cook to lament, “I can’t even boil an egg.”

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