How to boil an egg

This is what happened when our friend Vince wrote to his dad asking for a description of how to cook eggs.

By: Aad Berk, translated from the Dutch by Vince Berk.

0. Executive Summary

a. Make one (1) millimeter round hole in top of ROUND side of the egg. Do not puncture the thin film separating the contents from the shell. Practice this often.

b. Put eggs in pan with cold water.

c. Heat pan, water, eggs at full heat on gas or electric stove. Do not roll the eggs around.

d. When water boils (identified by big bubbles) start counting three (3) to five (5) minutes exactly, depending on size of the egg and preferred gooey-ness. Four (4) minutes will often work fine.

e. Frighten the eggs by pouring cold water into the pan. The cold water has to replace all the hot water, so let water overflow.

f. Leave eggs in cold water for thirty (30) seconds before serving with salt.

1. Identification of the “Round Side’’ of the Egg.

Each chicken egg has two sides; the round side and the pointed side. It is of utmost importance to properly identify the round side. The theory is that the shape of the egg is determined by the process of the chicken laying the egg, however the validity of this theory cannot be established with certainty. Nevertheless, the round side of the egg is the end that we are interested in and although it is hard to identify by itself, a comparison test between the two sides of the egg will quickly reveal what side of the egg is more round, and what side is more pointed. The reason for this confusion is that the pointed side is actually quite round itself, however the curve (degree of rounded-ness) is sharper than for the rounded side. This might mean that eggs could be identified that have a pointed side that is less sharply curved than an equivalent egg's rounded side. However, each of the two specimens will have a more sharply curved pointed side compared to their respective rounded sides. Another reliable way of determining which side is which, is the imaginary sphere technique. This involves imagining two small spheres inside the egg that give the egg its shape; a larger sphere with a smaller sphere on top, and then the egg-shell stretched tightly around it. The side of the larger sphere would then be identified as the rounded side of the egg. As for the radius of the two imaginary spheres; the radius of the larger sphere is approximately two times bigger than the radius of the smaller sphere.

2. The making of the “Hole’’

At this given time you should have identified the actual round side of the egg. If unsure, read chapter 1: “Identification of the Round Side of the Egg’’ first. The objective of this step is to create a small round breach in the egg-shell without having the inside of the egg exit prematurely. The hole is made in the top of the round side of the egg; along its imaginary symmetrical axis. That is, if we were to attach a small string to the hole, the center of gravity of the egg should align with the string once we lift the egg by the string. Another way of thinking of this would be to imagine the set of all symmetry planes of the egg. A properly formed egg will have symmetry planes that divide the egg exactly in 2 identical halves. Clearly there are an infinite number of these planes, however, they do all intersect on the same line; the center line of the egg. Now, the hole has to lie on that center line, and specifically on the rounded side of the egg.

The purpose of the hole is to relieve pressure from within the eggshell while the temperature is raised. This is important since eggs were designed to be laid at room temperature and at most withstand body temperature. When the egg is boiled in a later state the inside of the egg will expand further than the shell, due to increased temperature. Were there not to be a hole in the shell, the shell would crack certainly once the egg is brought to a boil. To avoid spilling the contents of the egg through the newly created hole, however, it has to be ensured that the thin film inside the shell of the egg is not punctured. This thin film resides between the contents of the egg and the shell.

The proper puncturing of the shell requires practice and dedication. There are tools on the market that will create a perfect punctured hole with the press of a button, however, it is highly unlikely that you will have such a tool at your disposal. The next best thing is a pair of scissors, or the tip of a fork, but any other sharp object will do as well. It is imperative that the diameter of the sharp object is no more than one (1) millimeter (1 thousandth of a meter) since the hole in the round side of the egg will have to be exactly one (1) mm. Hold the egg in one hand with the rounded side up and hold the sharp object between the thumb and index finger of the other hand. It is important to let the sharp object protrude only about one (1) mm from the fingers. This will make certain that the thin film inside the egg is not punctured when the hole is made. Now slowly tap the sharp object to the top of the rounded side of the egg. This will create structural integrity flaws that eventually cause the shell to give way right underneath the sharp object. Once this small puncture is complete, the object may be rotated to complete a perfect round hole with a diameter of one (1) millimeter.

3. The Pre-Boiling of the Water and Eggs.

Now find a pan that has a long handle such as that it may be held by one hand in a longitudinal orientation. The pan should be sufficiently large to hold the desired number of eggs and sufficiently deep to properly submerge the eggs in water. Put the eggs carefully in the pan and fill the pan with cold water until the eggs are submerged. Do not overfill the pan. The temperature of the water should be close to the temperature of the eggs, both preferably at room temperature. Now put the pan on a heater (do NOT microwave) and let the pan, water, and eggs heat up until the water boils. This should be done at full-heat. Both electric and gas stoves will suffice, however, in case of the gas stove full-heat might be referred to as full-throttle. During this process, do not move the eggs. They are happy the way they are.

One more important fact to note is that there should be tiny bubbles coming from the hole in the top of the round side of egg. These bubbles are natural and prevent the egg from splitting and/or exploding. If there is white goo dripping from the hole, then the thin film was punctured while the hole was made. This is a fault and a clear indicator of inexperience. Keep practicing.

The second stage of this step is to recognize the boiling of the water. Water boils at one hundred (100) degrees Celsius, at which point the water molecules are all desperately trying to get out of the liquid state and become airborne, in the so-called gasified state. Since the pan is hottest at the bottom, that is where most of these molecules will gasify and form bubbles. These bubbles, having a lower specific weight than liquid water, will quickly rise to the surface and create steam, which closely resembles white smoke. The point at which this step is over is when BIG bubbles are made, not SMALL bubbles. The water will quickly form small bubbles, however, that is not a solid indicator of the water cooking. Small bubbles may even produce some steam, but never in the volume that big bubbles do. There is no trick to recognizing big bubbles; if unsure, they are small bubbles. You’ll know big bubbles when you see them. Depending on the altitude, the big bubbles might be slightly bigger or smaller, however, big bubbles bubble significantly more violently than the smaller bubbles. Big bubbles can be anywhere between one (1) and three (3) centimeters in diameter. Additionally, the big bubbles will move the eggs around slightly. This is not an undesirable effect. When the big bubbles have been identified, move on to the next step.

Now all the hard work has been done.

4. Cook time.

This is the step in which the jelly part of the egg becomes solid egg-white and the yellow part of the egg becomes nice and gooey and warm. The water is now boiling, leave it like that, it should keep boiling (however, not too violently.) The moment that big bubbles are observed start counting time. Cook time is about three (3) minutes for small eggs up to five (5) minutes for bigger eggs. Cook time will vary with experience, however, four (4) minutes seems to work fine in almost all cases. Again, do not move the eggs.

5. The “Frightening’’ of the Egg.

Now that the eggs are properly boiled, turn off the heat source and lift the pan by the longitudinal handle. The object of this step is to frighten the egg and make the innards shrink slightly compared to the shell, such as that it the shell may be peeled off more easily during consumption. (Do not eat the shell.) The frightening is done by taking the pan with boiling water and holding it under cold running tap water. Hold the pan at a slight angle such as that the hot boiling water may overflow and run out at the lower end of the pan. Let the cold water pour in at the higher end of the pan. Be careful not to wash the eggs out of the pan while it is at an angle, it would ruin all the hard work done. Do this until all the hot water is replaced by cold water, which has to be colder than room temperature. How leave the eggs in this cold water for exactly thirty (30) seconds without supplying new cold water. It is hard to overdo this step, however, don’t muck around with ice-cubes, you are not trying to freeze the egg.

6. Done.

After the thirty (30) second frightening period, the egg is ready for serving and consumption. Serve with salt.

-Aad Berk