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How To Make Soft Boiled Eggs

Updated on July 24, 2015
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I ran a B&B and holiday cottage in Limousin, France for eight years - and couldn't boil an egg!

My perfect soft-boiled egg
My perfect soft-boiled egg | Source

How To Soft Boil An Egg

How hard can it be to soft boil an egg? Really, boiling an egg must be kids play - no?

I used to run a Bed and Breakfast in Limousin, rural France. We had our own lovely Maran hens and they laid the most beautiful brown eggs. They were super-free range, I couldn't control them at all, and the eggs were delicious.

I used to offer these wonderful eggs to my guests but I always hope that they'd choose anything but soft boiled eggs. Why? Because my guilty secret is that I can't make that perfect soft boiled egg to save my life! Or should I say I couldn't produce that perfect soft boiled egg until I did a bit of investigation to find out what the problem was.


Making the Perfect Boiled Egg
Making the Perfect Boiled Egg | Source

OK - so what is a perfect soft-boiled egg?

I am adamant that for me the perfect soft-boiled egg is where the white is totally solid (I hate transparent, slimy whites) and the yolk is perfectly runny so that I can dip my bread into it.

This is what I am aiming for in this article so if you like yours more solid - give it a bit more time. If you actually like a runny white - give it less time.

This Is Why It's Hard to boil an egg - There are so many variables!

The time it takes to boil an egg depends on the following:

  • How fresh your eggs are
  • The temperature of the eggs
  • The size of the eggs
  • The temperature of the water when you put the eggs into the pan
  • The amount of water in your pan
  • The size of your pan
  • How quickly your water comes to boiling point
  • The water goes off the boil when you add the eggs

How to soft boil eggs by the experts

Advice from the good, the bad and the ugly!

The five minute egg from The Kitchn

This advice is for large eggs:

  • Bring your pan of water to the boil and lower the temperature until it is simmering
  • Pierce your eggs and gently lower into the water
  • Boil the eggs for 5 minutes
  • Run under a cold tap for a minute or so
  • Serve immediately

Advice from The Kitchn

Rachael Ray's 6 minute egg

Rachael Ray starts with a room temperature egg (size unspecified) which is placed into boiling water. It is then cooked in the boiling water for 6 minutes. When the time is up, put the egg into a bowl of icy water. Your egg is now ready to serve.

Rachael Ray's 6 minute egg

Jamie Oliver's recipe for boiled egg success

Now Jamie goes the same way as Kitchn - at first. Get a small saucepan, bring the water to a fast boil. Then add a pinch of salt - this causes the water to drop a little in temperature. Drop your large eggs in carefully and boil for 7.5 minutes.

Jamie's boiled eggs with dippy soldiers

The Queen of the kitchen, Delia Smith

A long, long time ago I remember Delia Smith's cooking course which came out in the form of books (remember them?) and began with how to boil an egg.

Delia takes a different tack when it come to boiling an egg. This is the way she tells the story:

Delia begins with large eggs at room temperature

  • First - get the right sized pan for the number of eggs you are going to cook and then fill with enough water to cover the eggs by about 1cm.
  • Bring to the boil and gentlyput the eggs (from room temperature) into the water, one at a time, using a tablespoon.
  • Simmering for exactly one minute
  • Take the pan away from the heat, put it's lid on (yes, you do need a lid with Delia) and leave for 7 minutes.

Delia Online Soft Boiled Eggs

Martha Stewart starts with cold water

Another method, this time Martha begins with cold water.

  • Put your large eggs into a saucepan inone layer. Cover the eggs by an inch with cold water. Bring to a boil and then turn off theheat. Cover the pan and let it stand for between one and a half and two minutes. Take out the eggs and serve.

Martha's Soft-Boiled Eggs

My egg timing experiments

This is the size of our eggs - medium?

How do you size an egg - eggactly? This is a ruler in centimeters
How do you size an egg - eggactly? This is a ruler in centimeters | Source

I timed my eggs from three to seven and a half minutes

Ok - this is my egg-boiling experiment number one. I put the eggs at room temperature into boiling water without a lid and boiled them for between three minutes and seven-and-a-half minutes in the water and then took them straight out and served them.

Now my eggs are laid by our own hens and I guess that they are not LARGE. So I measured them. They are just over 6cm long. I guess they are medium. So that puts all the recipes above out straight away.

Interestingly, I seem to remember from my youth that a boiled egg took 3 minutes. I found my mother's old-fashioned sand egg-timer and, yes, it did take exactly three minutes for the sand to pass through. I wonder if eggs have become so much larger over the last 40 or so years ago.

These are my results:

  • 3 minutes - the white was clear and runny around the yolk
  • 4 minutes - the white still too undercooked for me
  • 5 minutes - perfect!
  • 6, 7 and 7.5 minues - all overcooked.

My eggs from three to seven-and-a-half minutes

My 3 minute egg was undercooked and 4 _ 7.5 minutes are all overcooked.
My 3 minute egg was undercooked and 4 _ 7.5 minutes are all overcooked. | Source

The Delia Smith method

I put my room temperature medium sized eggs into boiling water, boiled for one minute, covered and left for 6, 7 and 8 minutes. You can see the results below from left to right.

Verdict? All underdone and all at about the same level. I'll try again with a longer time in the pan.

Sorry Delia!

The art of timing a soft boiled egg

If you look at all the methods above they all use large eggs (what size is a large egg) and only one specifies the start temperature of the egg. I was always told that you boil the egg for three minutes (not 5 or even 7!) and one of my clients suggests four minutes. Allison Ehri Kreitler suggests putting the egg into cold water and the boiling it for just 2 minutes. What a difference of opinion!

My evaporation method of timing an egg

The soft-boiled egg evaporation test
The soft-boiled egg evaporation test | Source

So how to cope with all the egg variables - use the evaporation method

So far I haven't come across the method that a friend showed me - the evaporation method. Now this is much more of an art than a science but if you can perfect that art then you can cook a large egg or a small egg, a fresh egg or an old egg, a warm egg or a cold egg - get the picture?

The trick is to time the rate at which the water evaporates off the egg. Try the recipes above and get an idea of how long your eggs take to cook. Just before you think they are cooked you take them out of the water and see how quickly the water evaporates. If the egg is perfectly done, the water will evaporate from about half the egg to the count of three. This is where the art comes in. You need to try and test a few of these.

Good luck!

Conclusion

Ok, it isn't so easy to soft boil eggs, that's why 22,200 people asking Google "How to Soft Boil Eggs" every month?

I have discovered that the five minute egg is perfect for my sized eggs at room temperature - although I still haven't experimented with freshness.You need to experiment. You need to fix as many of the variables as possible, and then find the timing for your eggs cooked to perfection for your taste or perfect the evaporation method.

No other way round it - experiment.

Kitchen Equipment to Boil an Egg

What You Need To Soft Boil An Egg - Quite a few kitchen utensils actually!

What do you need to boil and egg (and eat it?) To boil the egg you'll need an egg piercer, a pan (with a lid for some methods), a large spoon, an egg timer - clock or watch.

To eat your egg you'll need an egg cup and a teaspoon.

You could also treat yourself to an egg-cosy!

An egg timer is really useful

An egg timer is not essential, but you can get distracted even in a three minute wait! I like this hen egg timer - cute - but there is a whole range, from the design statement to the basic and a good choice for all pockets on amazon..

An Egg Piercer is Essential - This Is My Essential Egg Boiling Bit of Kit

This is a great little tool - cheap as chips - that allows you to put your eggs into boiling water without cracking. This means that at least two of the variable, the temperature of the water and amount of water, are dealt with.

My egg piercer is a fun 'fried egg' egg piercer designed by Fox Run this little gadget is small enough to pop into a kitchen draw and it works marvelously. Place an egg on the yellow centre and push down to pierce the egg.

Eggy Recipes - So many delicious things that you can do with a boiled egg

What is your best recipe for a boiled egg?

The vulgar boil, the learned roast, an egg.

— Alexander Pope

Do You Know How to Boil Eggs? - Have you cracked it?

Are you a soft-boiled egg Queen or King?

See results

© 2013 Barbara Walton

What is Your Best Recipe for a Boiled Egg? - I'd love to hear from you

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