How to Cook an Egg
Techniques such as poached, omelettes or hard-cooked seem simple but can be tough methods to crack. Burnt bottoms, runny tops, ring-around-the-yolk, or imperfect poaches are common pitfalls. Whatever your egg dilemma, we have the foolproof methods for how to cook an egg perfectly every time.
To understand why eggs overcook so easily, it helps to understand how proteins behave when they’re heated. Proteins are shaped like small coils. When gently heated, they unwind (denature) and join together loosely with neighboring denatured proteins. Water between or attached to the proteins is held in a moist, tender network. If the heat is too high or the cooking time too long, the protein mesh tightens, squeezing out the water and making the proteins tough, leathery, and watery. So make gentle cooking a rule no matter how you cook eggs.
How to Cook Scrambled Eggs
Scrambled eggs are a breakfast classic, but more often than not, you can find half of them irretrievably plastered to the bottom of the pan. And as with the other methods of preparing eggs, it’s easy to overcook scrambled eggs.
Avoid the temptation to pour raw eggs into a cold pan. This allows them to get into any nicks or imperfections in the surface, causing you to literally cook the eggs into the pan. Heating the empty pan first will expand the metal and effectively “seal” those imperfections so your eggs will cook on the surface, not below it. Your pan is hot enough when you can feel the heat on the upper edge of the pan. I gently heat a heavy, nonstick skillet, remove it from the heat, and spray it lightly with a nonstick cooking spray. Then I return it to medium or low heat for a few seconds before adding the eggs. Don’t leave the sprayed empty pan over direct heat for too long, as the spray can “cook” onto the pan, leaving a residue that’s hard to remove. You can use butter instead of the spray, but be sure to keep the heat low, because butter can burn and cause sticking, too.
After you add the beaten eggs to the pan, let them sit untouched for a full minute and they will puff magnificently. The egg holds on to trapped air, which expands when heated. If you stir the eggs vigorously immediately after they go into the pan, you’ll stir all the air out of the egg and end up with small curds and not much volume.
After the eggs have puffed, gently push one edge to the center to allow the uncooked eggs to flow into the bare pan. Do this until no liquid eggs flow to the edge and you have a pan of soft mounds that still look moist. Eggs continue to cook after you remove them from the heat, so it’s important to remove them when they aren’t quite done. By following these tips, you’ll have soft, fluffy eggs, not tough, watery ones.
Since eggs shouldn’t be cooked at a hard boil, egg experts prefer the term hard-cooked over hard-boiled: Whatever you call them, there are two problems you’ll want to avoid: cracked shells and the ugly green layer that can form around the yolk.
For perfect cooking, start with eggs that don’t have any visible cracks. If they’ve been refrigerated, warm the eggs for four to five minutes in warm tap water. By bringing them to room temperature, they’re much less likely to crack in the hot water. In case small cracks do develop, add salt to the cooking water. The salt will help to speed up the denaturing of the egg white, causing less of it to feather into the water. Use at least a tablespoon of table salt per two quarts of water.
When hard-cooking eggs, watch the time carefully. Overcooking causes a green layer to form around the yolk. This layer is caused by a reaction between the iron in the yolk and the sulfur in the white. Heat speeds up this reaction, so the longer your eggs cook, the greater the chance of discoloration. I arrange my eggs in one layer and add cold water to cover them by an inch and a half. I partially cover the pot, and when the water has reached a full rolling boil, I turn the heat down to low, completely cover the pan, and let the eggs cook for thirty seconds. Then I remove them from the heat and let them sit in the hot water for fifteen minutes. I then put them in a bowl of heavily iced water for five minutes to further prevent overcooking.
How to Cook Soft Boiled Eggs
The traditional method of soft cooking is to put your eggs into a small saucepan and fill with more than enough cold water to cover them. Heat at the highest setting but once the water starts to boil reduce the heat and simmer for 3-5 minutes depending on how thick or runny you want your egg to be. I find 4 minutes is usually about right.
The preferred but more time-conuming method is to add the eggs, one at a time, lowering in with a tablespoon when the water starts to simmer. Reduce the heat and simmer the eggs for exactly 1 minute then remove the pan from the heat and leave for 6 or 7 minutes depending on how running you want your egg.
Older Eggs are Easier to Peel
The higher pH of an older egg makes the shell come off easier. That’s why I don’t recommend, as some cooks do, adding vinegar to the cooking water, since it would reduce the natural alkalinity of the slightly older eggs.
How to Poach an Egg
A properly poached egg will hold together and be tender, not tough. But improperly cooked, a poached egg can be a cloudy mess of feathered egg whites. The first trick to poaching eggs is to use fresh eggs. The thicker white of a fresh egg poaches beautifully without creating all that mess in the water. Getting the egg to set quickly is also important when poaching. Both acid and salt make proteins in an egg denature faster, so add a little vinegar or salt (or both) to the cooking water. For up to four eggs, I like to use a large, nonstick skillet filled a little over halfway with water.
When the water reaches a slow boil, break your egg into a saucer and then slip it into the water. This initial dunk will set the outside and keep it from spreading. Once the water returns to a boil, reduce the heat to a low simmer. By simmering the eggs rather than boiling them, you provide gentle cooking that results in a tender egg. When the white is firm, your egg is done.
Perfect fried eggs:
1 fresh large egg*
3/4 tablespoon of butter
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
* Use the freshest and best eggs you can find.
Very fresh eggs produce the best shape when frying eggs.
- Place a small non-stick frying pan over the lowest possible heat on your stove (if using gas, you should barely see the blue flame.)
- Add the butter and let slowly melt, making sure it doesn’t foam and is not sizzling.
- When all the butter has melted, crack the egg into a small bowl, dish, or saucer (taking care not to break the yolk and to remove any shell fragments).
- Gently slide the egg off the dish into the frying pan and cover with a lid.
- Continue cooking approximately 5 minutes until the egg white solidifies from transparency into snow-white cream; the yolk will thicken slightly as it heats. How quickly the egg cooks is dependent on how low you have the heat.
- Do not flip the eggs but leave the egg sunny-side up and natural.
- When your egg is done, slide cooked egg onto a serving plate; sprinkle with fresh cracked pepper, salt, and serve.
And tha,t my friends, is how to cook an egg.
How to Test if an Egg is Fresh
Of course the top rule for how to cook an egg is freshness. To test, fill a deep bowl with water and carefully lower the egg into the water. A very fresh egg will immediately sink to the bottom and lie flat on its side. This is because the air cell within the egg is very small. The egg should also feel quite heavy.
As the egg starts to lose its freshness and more air enters the egg, it will begin to float and stand upright. The smaller end will lie on the bottom of the bowl, whilst the broader end will point towards the surface. The egg will still be good enough to consume, however, if the egg fully floats in the water and does not touch the bottom of the bowl at all, it should be discarded, as it will most likely be bad.
The freshness of an egg is not only determined by the date when the egg was laid, but also by the way the egg has been stored. Proper handling and storage is perhaps the most important factor in determining freshness.
If a freshly laid egg is left at room temperature for a full day, it will not be as fresh as a week old egg that has been refrigerated between 33° and 40°F. from the time it was laid.
Many eggs reach stores only a few days after the hen lays them. Egg cartons with the USDA grade shield on them, indicating they came from a USDA-inspected plant, must display the ‘pack date’ (the day that the eggs were washed, graded, and placed in the carton). The number is a three-digit code that represents the consecutive day of the year (the ‘Julian Date’) starting with January 1 as 001 and ending with December 31 as 365.
Though not required, most egg cartons also contain a “sell by” date beyond which they should not be sold. In USDA-inspected plants (indicated by the USDA shield on the package), this date can’t exceed 30 days beyond the pack date which is within USDA regulations. Always purchase eggs before their “sell by” date.