I wish – I really do wish that cooking eggs were that simple. Do it this way – do it another way – so many cookery books declare from on high, and you try it; book propped open next to the cooker, or in my case last week – laptop getting grease spattered while the whole attempt falls apart. In reality, eggs are quite difficult because there are so many rarely mentioned variables; how fresh they are; what temperature they’re at and so on. And then there’s the subjective issue of what exactly constitutes a properly cooked egg. Madame likes her boiled eggs well cooked with the yolks firm. I like mine with runny yolks and if they come out with snotty whites then that’s a price I’m prepared to pay, and even with a timer counting in seconds we regularly get it wrong.
Half of the problem with eggs is that the whites and the yolks set at different temperatures. Sous vide users have worked out a way to make perfect boiled eggs but my sous vide cooker gave up years ago and I never replaced it; I’m a cook not a biophysicist. As is always the case, the answer to questions about the way to cook an egg would need to be “well it depends”. I’m innately suspicious of terms like “perfect” and “authentic” which often hinge on entirely subjective criteria – I prefer to say “well I like it this way” and leave it to the questioner to figure out whether I’m a moron; [yes!].
Raw eggs are apparently a sovereign cure for hangovers – an idea I tried out just once when I swallowed a whole egg and immediately puked it back into the sink without even breaking the yolk. Of course the real problem with them is that they change state – ie from liquid to solid- extremely quickly, which is why your hollandaise will split if you take your eye off the ball for a second when it’s on the heat. Mayonnaise too will split at the drop of a hat; in fact the easiest egg emulsion to make is aioli which is almost bombproof or even better allioli in which the excessive garlic makes it impossible to get wrong. Greek chefs whisk an egg into bechamel which transforms it into an altogether lighter and more elegant sauce.
The fresher the eggs and the more natural the life of the hens, the better they’ll taste – except the very freshest eggs (laid this morning) are better left for a day before you cook them because they often won’t set. It’s a bit of a mystery how hens manage to make such beautiful things from slugs and snails and puppy dog’s tails but they do; and however much we puff up the idea of saving the earth by eating insects, I’d rather break the process into two stages – that way we all get to enjoy ourselves.
Even getting the egg out of the shell is a matter of controversy. Some chefs show off by breaking them on the edge of the pan and shelling them one handed. Others tap the shell with a knife to get the process going (NB bits of shell are inclined to drop into the bowl and such is the viscosity of whites you’ll waste ten fruitless minutes chasing them with the tip of your knife. Finally there are those that prefer the sharp tap on a table – which works well until you get a thin shelled egg which bursts all over the floor. This hazard is much more prevalent in battery eggs. Organic and free range hens eat calcium containing dirt with their normal diet, and thoughtful owners give them grit too. Worms have an innovative process of digestion which is aided by grit – hence passing calcium to the lucky hens that eat them. One broken egg from a pack increases the price of the rest by 16%, and in times of inflation that’s not a price you want to pay.
I’m not suggesting for a moment that we should all get our eggs by Deliveroo from some ghastly factory run by Mac-Cock-a-Doodle. Eating less but better is always the way to go.
Eating together is an inherently communitarian and democratic act – never ever allow an expert to tell you what to cook and how to cook it. Experience, a good memory and a willingness to learn from your mistakes will make you a better cook than a dozen makeup artists, food stylists and dieticians will ever do.