How to Prepare Soft Boiled Eggs
Crack! The shell breaks, and the top comes off. Gooey, the yolk drips down the side. This is a soft-boiled egg.
I'm not sure if soft-boiled eggs are as popular now as when I was a kid growing up in the 60s, but I have great memories of slicing off the tops and dipping my slice of toast into the oozing yellow yolk seasoned with salt and pepper.
Just thinking about this routine breakfast delight takes me back to my childhood.
We lived in the New Jersey suburbs of New York City, but my dad raised chickens in our backyard. I can't imagine that the town I grew up in still allows anyone to raise their own chickens today.
We would go out in the morning and, with the risk of getting pecked by some roosting hen, reach under and grab any fresh eggs she may be sitting on. Then for breakfast, we had our choice of how we liked our eggs, but I'm sure I asked for soft-boiled most of the time.
My mom would serve our soft-boiled eggs in a ceramic egg cup sitting on a small side plate with a second egg and a couple of pieces of Wonder Bread toast sliced into the perfect size to dip into the eggs. On the table would be salt and pepper for seasoning.
When we were small and not that good with knives, she would cut the tops off for us, but as we got older, she trusted us to slice those tops off ourselves. But, of course, there was always a discussion on how much of the top to remove.
Ideally, you only wanted the white of the egg with no yolk but as much of the egg white as possible. So it became competitive in our house as to who could get the most egg white with no yolk.
Soft-boiled eggs were first seen in Ancient Rome, where the recipe consisted of poking a hole in the egg before boiling it, waiting five minutes, then cutting the egg in half. Next, add pepper, pine nuts, honey, and vinegar mixed with garum (fermented fish sauce).
It disappeared from history for a while until it came back in Medieval France as a delicacy because of its digestibility. Today, in modern times, it is an easy breakfast that can be done quickly that is still good. With a bit of practice, anyone can do it.
Perfectly Cooked Soft Boiled Eggs
I'm not sure if my mom used an egg timer; they were popular back in the day. I think we owned an hourglass version you would flip over. The egg was done when all the sand was gone. When I asked my brother about his experiences, he said they were always different.
What's a perfectly cooked soft boiled egg?
Most people would say, including me, when you cut off the top of a perfect soft-boiled egg, the yolk is still runny, so when you dip your "soldier" (sliced toast) into it, it drips down the side.
The yolk is just barely cooked like a sunny-side-up fried egg. The egg white should be firm but not hard.
My brother reminded me that he hated runny eggs and preferred when the yolk was firm and hard. To this day, he says he can't eat eggs "over easy" because of how my mom served him soft-boiled eggs as a kid.
Today he is a bigger fan of hard-boiled eggs. So it's all a matter of personal tastes.
Maybe it was the holidays, but I've recently become nostalgic for soft-boiled eggs, so I've been preparing them once every couple of weeks and realized I've never written about them on ReluctantGourmet.com.
Like most things we cook, everyone has their own tried-and-true recipe for making the perfect soft boiled egg, but there are a lot of variables that can affect the outcome, including:
- Size of the Egg
- How Many You Are Preparing
- How You Like Your Eggs
- It's All About Timing
There is nothing complicated about cooking soft-boiled eggs. It all comes down to timing, depending on your personal preferences. Do you like them runny, firm, or somewhere in between?
From my own experiences on my stove, five (5) minutes is the perfect amount of time for a soft-boiled egg with a runny yolk. However, if you like them firmer, I suggest starting with six (6) minutes and seeing how that works for you.
You can make adjustments based on your experiences, but once you have it down, you're good to go every time.
As much fun as it was eating soft-boiled eggs as a kid, it was just as much fun to see what egg cup my mom would serve them in. She had a lot of choices, especially since egg cups made great Christmas presents for my mom.
I started a Pinterest Board called Egg Cups you might be interested in checking out for some vintage and modern-day egg cups.
Soft Boiled Eggs
- salt & pepper to taste
- Bring a pot of water to a boil. The pot must be big enough to hold the eggs and deep enough to cover them. Once the water comes to a boil, lower the heat to a simmer.
- Add the eggs carefully to the pot. I use a slotted spoon and place them in quickly but tenderly. You don’t want to make poached eggs!
- Cover the eggs and start your timer for five or six minutes, depending on how runny you like your eggs.
- While the eggs are cooking, get the toast started. You can butter the toast or not and then cut it into 1-inch slices, also known as “soldiers,” and I have no idea why they call them that. Next, you cut the toast into strips for dipping into the delicious runny egg yolks.
- When the timer goes off, or your clock says it’s time, remove the pot from the stove and immediately run cold water into the pot to cool off the eggs. When they are cool enough to handle, remove them from the pot and serve them in your favorite egg cups and the “soldiers.”
- When serving or “plating” the egg, you can get creative. The way I usually do it is to put the egg in the middle, like the center of a flower, with the top cut off and strips of bread around it, like the petals.
- Season with salt and pepper, and you’re ready to go.
- I don’t eat soft-boiled eggs that often, but when I do, I’m always transported back to my childhood home, sitting at the kitchen table with my family. Great memories.
I plan to make this for breakfast tomorrow. I see hundreds of pictures of food every day, but the this really stands out. Thanks for sharing it!
G. Stephen Jones
Thank you Jen, much appreciated.
I love soft boiled eggs and make them all the time with buttered toast or English muffins, but I make them completely different and they always come out perfectly cooked with whites fully set and yolk runny. I will also make them for my dogs to add to their kibble.
Place eggs directly from fridge in saucepan, cover with water, and put on heat. As soon as water begins to boil, set timer for 3 minutes. When timer goes off, immediately remove from heat and flush with warm water to stop cooking and immediately crack into a bowl. While eggs are cooking I make my toast so everything is hot. I don't do fancy egg cups, but use rice bowls and crack both eggs (always two!)into the bowl, scooping out the egg with a teaspoon. This way I can cut the white and have each piece covered in that wonderful gooey yolk. Add freshly ground salt and pepper and let the feast begin!
G. Stephen Jones
Sounds delicious Marlena
I recently read an article that suggested boiling eggs in a saucepan with one-quarter inch of water, covered so the steam helps with the cooking. I find that six minutes with a cold egg works for me to get a soft-boiled one.
I believe the last word in para six of the instructions should read "petals". Pedals are for bicycles. 😉
G. Stephen Jones
Thanks for the suggestions and the misspelling.
Soft-boiled eggs with broken up buttered toast was what our Mom always served when we were sick. It has the best memories - snuggled in bed, missing school, a good book, and soft-boiled eggs and toast. (SMILE).
Sherry LaCroix; I am 76 now but one of my fondest memories is Saturday morning soft boiled eggs with broken up buttered toast!! It was a special treat and I treasure that memory.
Yum wonderful Vera. Always my favorite loving memories. I love fresh farm eggs. I am wondering, I thought the yolks always needed to be thoroughly cooked or we would get salmonella? Is that a myth? Yummy thoughts loved grape jelly on mine. Grandma always said OK. Miss her. Mom too! God Bless
Thanks for the article, I've recently had a hankering for soft boiled eggs after buying some beautiful egg cups in Norway this summer. Haven't totally perfected how to get the whites out yet, tips on that? Just use a spoon or peel it?
Also this is purely speculative, but as an architect I'm going to guess that the reason they call the toast "soldiers" is because when you lay brick in a tall thin orientation I believe it's called a soldier course. Who knows, just a thought.