This is the first in a series of blog posts I intend to post about my experimentations with cooking in a kettle. I was put on to the idea by a bloke I met in Cambodia called Dirty Derek and cooked some fairly decent meals in cheap hotel rooms out there.
But since I’ve been back, I’ve been experimenting further with cooking times etc. and today nailed what I consider to be the perfect boiled egg, with virtually idiot-proof instructions.
I’ve noticed people get particularly argumentative, territorial even, about what constitutes a good soft-boiled egg. Everyone seems to have their own view on how runny the yolk should be and the firmness of the white.
Indeed, I once witnessed an argument in a waffle bar on the subject. It was in a mountainous region of the US. I forget where. A loud American (are there any others) sporting a lumberjack shirt covered in wood chippings demanded his soft-boiled eggs be cooked for exactly three minutes, with a match thrown in to stop them breaking.
The waitress said something like: “You want soft-boiled?”
“Yes I want soft-boiled!” said the red-bearded lumberjack, repeating his cooking instructions, this time in greater detail.
“You want six minutes.”
“Three!” he said, with rather unnecessary vivacity.
“It’s six here because of the altitude...”
“Fuck the altitude. Three minutes!” he said.
I won’t bore you with the details, but the waitress was right and his eggs were a slime-fest, and he sent them back for further cooking.
I can’t say I fully understand it, but it has something to do with air pressure decreasing at higher altitudes, which means water boils at a lower temperature, which means food takes longer to cook. Anyway, I assume you’ll be cooking at less than 2,000ft or so, so don’t try this on an aeroplane.
The perfect boiled egg is something that has a slight droop of runny white at the tip of the egg, ensuring a golden runny freshness to the yolk as you dip your bread in.
Some people - and I used to work a breakfast section in a hotel for a short while, so I know exactly the sort of people - believe this means the egg is slightly undercooked.
This, you can tell them, is utter nonsense, because if you cook the egg to the point where you don’t have egg white dribble at the egg’s peak, then what you will gain in the firmness of the white, you lose in the runniness of the yolk, which surely is the beauty of a decent boiled egg.
The last point I want to raise is the issue of soldiers, which reminds me of an old joke: “What’s the difference between Italians and a piece of toast? You can make soldiers out of a piece of toast.”
Soldiers are of course made by cutting a piece of buttered toast into strips, thin enough to dip into your runny egg. They should, as the Savoy and others do it, come with a small mound of salt and one of pepper on your plate, so you dip a soldier into the seasoning and then into the egg.
Of course, when cooking in a kettle in a hotel room or bedsitting room or such, you won’t, unless you’re extremely lucky, have access to a toaster - and yes, I have tried toasting bread in a Corby trouser press with rather unsatisfactory results.
So instead, you’ll have to make do with bread, cut into soldiers. Firmer bread like granary is better for this, particularly the crust. You don’t need a knife - you can butter the bread very effectively with the teaspoon. If you don't have an egg cup, you can make one by cutting one of the egg compartments out of the egg box.
In short, this carefully-honed recipe really has taken any guess work out of the runny egg issue and is guaranteed to perform admirably in the breakfast stakes. The beauty of it, unlike my other experiments, is you don’t need an egg timer.
Soft-Boiled Eggs Cooked In A Kettle
1 wooden spoon
Empty the kettle and fill with enough cold water to cover the eggs. In a conventional kettle this will be about one litre of water. Using the wooden spoon, carefully roll the eggs in so they don’t break. Pour a little more cold water in to cover the eggs if there is not enough.
Switch on the kettle and while you’re waiting for it to boil, make your soldiers. When it is boiled, unplug the kettle. Leave for one minute to take the sting out of the water and let the steam reduce.
Open the kettle’s lid and being careful not to burn yourself roll the eggs out with a wooden spoon and put on your plate. Pour a small mound of pepper and one of salt next to the eggs, then get to work with your soldiers. A cup of tea made with the egg water is the perfect accompaniment.