In Pittsburgh, people call them “dippy eggs.” It’s a great name for eggs with runny yolks because it makes the eater’s intention very clear: I want my toast and potatoes soaked in that delicious, golden richness. If you’re like my father, that probably sounds disgusting to you; but if you’re like me it will probably make your stomach grumble. I have to admit, after a while crispy-edged, over-easy and sunnyside up eggs can seem tiresome and greasy, and sometimes you want that yummy yolk without the added oil or butter.
Thankfully, there are poaching and soft-boiling for those days. Instead of cooking directly on the hot pan, these two methods cook in simmering water and make eggs that are soft and silky. In my experience, each of these types of eggs are good for different types of occasions. If you’re a yolk fiend like me, I’d recommend trying both and see which you like best!
Soft boiled are far easier to cook, but (because they are made in-shell) harder to eat. Perfect for an everyday breakfast or brunch, they are boiled in shell, like hard boiled eggs, but carefully timed to achieve soft yolks as opposed to their hard-boiled brethren.
Poached eggs, on the other hand, take a little more effort and attention to cook, but are easy to eat and elegant if you’re cooking to impress. Poaching eggs requires you to crack the eggs and drop them into a pot of simmering water. Just like soft-boiled, timing is crucial. Overcooking them can make the whites a bit tough and the yolks solid — not a pretty sight. In my opinion, it’s better to air on the side of undercooked rather than over, as a little runny egg white probably won’t hurt you. Another important consideration when poaching eggs is their freshness; as eggs age, the whites begin to separate a bit. Poaching with a very fresh egg, the entire thing can stay together, but with old eggs, there will likely be foamy bits of whites that don’t taste good and make cleanup harder.
Fun trick: you can test egg’s freshness by placing it in a bowl of cold water. Fresh eggs will sink completely in water; and as they get older, they will begin to float! To see why, next time you crack one, feel around the top of the inner eggshell and you will feel a pocket of air. As eggs age, air enters through the shell and fills that air pocket, making them float. Science! Alternatively, egg cartons actually display the date that the eggs were packed with a three digit number that represents the day of the year (this article will be published on day 108). My current eggs are eight days old, which are probably still ok to poach, but the fresher the better!
Soft Boiled Eggs
Fill a saucepan about halfway with salted water, enough to cover the eggs. More is fine too, it will just take longer to boil. Bring the water to a fast simmer: you’re looking for bubbles about the size of a dime or penny. Lower the eggs into the water with a slotted spoon or ladle.
Timing here is critical. Once the eggs are in the water, start a timer for six minutes for whites that are mostly set and runny yolks. At seven minutes, the whites should be fully set if you’re a stickler for that or like thicker yolks. Once the timer goes off, quickly get the eggs out of the water and put them in a bowl or collander and rinse them under cold water for 20-30 seconds to stop the cooking process.
Then, simply crack of the top portion of the egg with a butter knife, being careful not to get bits of shell mixed up with the rest, and feast on the wonderfully soft egg inside! Dipping your toast directly into the molten yolk is always good, but I particularly like to scoop the whole egg out onto a piece of toast with a spoon. Finish with salt and pepper and start grubbin’.
Again, start with a saucepan about half full of salted water and bring it to a very gentle simmer. Meanwhile, crack your eggs into small bowls (or, in teacups if you happen to have them, as I do). When the water and eggs are ready, add a tablespoon of white wine or distilled vinegar to the water. This will help the egg whites stick together and solidify and doesn’t affect the taste, in my experience. Stir the water in a circle with a spoon so that it makes a little whirlpool. This will keep the eggs from sprawling out too much in the water.
With the water swirling, gently, but in a single quick motion, slide the eggs into the water one at a time. Immediately start the timer for five minutes. This time may vary depending on the water temperature, so practice will help you gauge a time that works if this is too long or short. I like to keep stirring the pot a bit during this time, just so the eggs don’t stick to the bottom, but if you’re using a non-stick saucepan you shouldn’t need to. When the timer goes off, quickly remove the eggs with a slotted spoon (or a regular spoon, transferring them to a collander) and let them drip dry slightly. Salt and pepper, and serve immediately. For a rich, elegant meal, serve over a small pile of sautéed mushrooms rosemary with toast or another starch.