There is a hilarious moment, in the 14th minute of Billy Wilder’s Sabrina, when the master chef who teaches Ms Audrey Hepburn’s gourmet cooking class speaks the immortal words: ‘Bonjours, mesdames et messieurs. Yesterday we have learned the correct way how to boil water…’
Ah, how we all laughed when we first heard that! How could anybody not know how to boil water?? Is there anything simpler and more obvious? Unfortunately, the joke is not all that farfetched. Some of the simplest and most obvious processes cause people tremendous trouble. Thus, to my utter astonishment, I learned quite recently that more than half the population of the civilised West does not know how to boil an egg! Will you believe it???
Now, not all our cases are as desperate as that of Mr Ivan Lendl, the grand Czech tennis champion, who once during an interview confessed that his mother and sister always cooked for him and that he had no idea how a kitchen worked. To illustrate this, Mr Lendl told of this one evening when both his beloved women were out and he was hungry. He decided to boil an egg for himself. So he put an egg in a pan and the pan on the fire and went to watch TV while waiting for the process to run its course. Three minutes later there was an immense blast in the kitchen, and when he rushed over, he found that the egg had exploded and was now plastered all over the ceiling and the kitchen walls. ‘You see,’ Mr Lendl explained with a smile, ‘I had no idea that one has to put water into the pan when one boils an egg…’
No, 99.99 % of the population, will never make such a mistake. But what the greater majority of that same population does not know how to do is to cook an egg to their full satisfaction. As we all know there are three states of boiled egg: soft, medium and hard. And only all too many people can only get the hard-boiled egg right (by letting it cook for 20 minutes…). When they try to produce a soft-boiled egg, it often comes out like runny goo. When they aspire to a semi-soft egg (and most do), it usually turns out too hard. A family breakfast fails dismally once again… Lawyers and divorce papers appear on the horizon…
All sorts of ingenious devices have been invented, produced, brought onto the market and propagandized to help house wives and tennis champions to produce the boiled eggs of their choice and preference. There are kitchen timers, hour glasses, miniature pressure cookers, smart phone apps, litmus tests and termo-chemical adhesive strips that must be wrapped around the egg shell and change colour when the prescribed cooking period has passed. In ultra religious Spain there even used to be an apostolically approved pious method to guarantee the perfect egg: a house wife would mutter four Ave Maria’s over the pan for a soft boiled egg, six for a semi-soft one, and an entire rosary for the harder variety. The Holy Virgin of Miracles took care, we hope, of the rest…
But all this is perfectly needless. Come now, people: it ain’t rocket science. If only you know what you’re doing, you will need no expensive aids, electronic devices, satellite guidance or help from on high. All you need are the instructions from a man who knows what he’s doing, and the discipline to follow those instructions to the letter.
So here is…
Alfred B. Mittington’s ‘Correct Way To Boil An Egg…’
Put a normal sized egg in a pan and fill the pan with cold water until the egg is completely submerged. Do not punch holes in the shell or mistreat the egg in any other way. It makes no sense and no difference for the end result. Do not use already boiling water either; it will completely disturb the timing.
Put half a teaspoon of salt, or a fair splash of vinegar into the water. This raises the boiling temperature slightly, but – more importantly – it seals a crack if the shell happens to burst, so that you do not end up with an empty wind-egg floating in ugly egg soup.
Put the pan onto a high fire and bring to a boil.
As soon as sturdy, unstoppable bubbles rise up from beneath the egg, making it dance, lower the fire to medium height (the water must continue to bubble) and bring out the stopwatch or any other sort of watch with a second-hand.
From this very moment:
If you want a soft-boiled egg: count 3 minutes, and not a second more!
If you want a semi-soft egg: count 4 minutes, and not a second more!
If you want a hard-boiled egg: let the water boil for 5 minutes at least.
As soon as the prescribed time is over – and not a second more! – remove the egg from the pan and submerge it entirely in cold water. This stops the congealing process. If you want your egg warm, you can take it out of it cool bath after some 30 seconds and serve it. If you want your egg cold you will need to keep it in there for a considerable time (10 minutes usually).