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The Perfect Soft-Boiled Egg — without Using a Timer

soft-boiled egg

I’m making myself a soft-boiled egg this morning, something that seems to belong to days gone by and which always reminds me of my grandfather. (I’m going to give some background color, but if you only have time for the tip, please feel free to scroll down to the end of the article.)

Grandpa Charlie was sort of an unusual young man from upstate New York who near the beginning of the last century traveled down to Puerto Rico to run a fruit-growing plantation and ended up staying there and raising a family (well, just my Mom) for, what, 30 years? I can still picture his tall, lanky frame draped in a vest catering to our breakfast needs as we scooped out our soft-boiled eggs on the glassed-in porch (French window panes, mind you) of a brick two-story in the burbs of Chicago. Listening to stories of sugar cane and hurricanes and ponies who loved to eat a mango whole and spit out the seed.

Grandpa Charlie Taught Me How

Charlie taught me how to master the soft-boiled egg. How to crack through its protective encasement without making a total mess, or ruining the insides with shards of shell. Which, especially for a kid, is no simple task. With the egg sitting in one of those special soft-boiled egg holders, he instructed my sister and I how to top it off with a dinner knife (absolute confidence mandatory), salt-and-pepper and spoon out the white-only top, and then proceed to the delicate job of spooning out the yolk, bite-by-bite, ideally, without spilling too much of the yellow gold down the egg holder and onto your plate.


Sometimes I succeeded, and more often, not, but it always tasted pretty darn delicious. Well, except when the egg was undercooked and you had too much of that clear, liquidy white to have to get down your gullet. Ick! (Thus, the importance of having a method for cooking it perfectly every time.)

Weirdly enough, my daughter, Miss Pickiest Eater of All Time, loves soft-boiled eggs. I’ve never asked her why—heaven forbid, just asking would encourage her to reconsider, which would probably end up with her adding soft-boiled eggs to her endless list of foods verboten. But my best guess is it’s the entertainment factor—a huge thing to kids that anybody who has kids learns pretty fast if they want to lure them into eating foods that are actually good for them. Thus, my daughter and I get to share this delicacy while my wife bows out. Soooo, if you’ve got a picky eater, you should try a soft-boiled egg out on them—you might luck out!

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Tip for Cooking a Perfect Soft-Boiled Egg

Here’s the tip my mother taught me (Grampa Charlie taught her) that’s incredibly foolproof and guarantees a perfect soft-boiled egg every single time:

soft boiled egg_cold water1) Immerse the egg (or eggs) in stone-cold water in a stone-cold pan. (This is the key element—not even warm water, cold water.) Make sure the egg is totally covered.

2) Put the pan over high heat and wait until the water begins to boil.

3) It usually takes about 10 minutes (depending on your elevation, stove, pan, etc.). So if you don’t want to have to always sit and watch, the first time you do it, set a timer for 9 minutes and make a mental note of your ballpark time.

soft boiled egg_boiling4) Once the water boils, depending on how well-done you like the insides, either remove from heat immediately or allow to cook for one or two minutes longer.

If you remove the egg right when the water first starts to boil, generally, you will get a very soft egg with a small portion of the white, not quite cooked, slightly liquidy and clear. If you let it cook for a minute or two longer, you will get it the way I like it, with most of the white pretty much cooked, but the yolk still liquid. If you continue to cook for 3 or 4 minutes, you will begin hardening up the yolk and heading toward hard-boiled land. Experiment for the balance that suits you.

soft boiled egg_cooldown5) To cool down the egg quickly without cracking it, put the pan under the faucet and add a stream of cold water to the hot until all the water becomes lukewarm and you can pluck the egg out barehanded. Voilá!

• • •

The great thing about this technique is that it’s a super-easy and reliable way to reap the same results every time. And if you’re stuck somewhere without a timer, you can still, accurately, soft-boil an egg!

soft boiled egg_eaten

3 Responses

  1. Oh. WoW…amazing !!
    This the very 1st time I saw a post about soft boiled egg (didn’t search yet). I’d heard about that before, but didn’t know how to do it. I am definitely going to try this. Thanks to you for sharing your knowledge… :)

  2. Hi Nate, When I was a little tyke my father would also have a soft boiled egg for breakfast. However, I would on occasions, when he was late in getting to the table, put my eaten shell upside down in his egg container. He would pretend he didn’t know that the egg was an eaten one and would cut am opening in the egg shell and when he saw that it was empty he would pretend to cry for a minute while I sat at the table laughing my head off. I may have to get me an egg container just to bring back the memories.

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