In Underrated we review the ordinary rituals we build around food. Next up: cooking an egg.
Until last year I had never boiled an egg. Even now I can retain in the murky corners of my mind the full recipes for lemon meringue roulade, butter maple ice cream, and Catalan fish stew spiked with garlic and saffron, but I can’t for the life of me remember exactly how to cook an egg. I am always typing “Delia Smith soft- boiled egg” into Google, cutting straight to Britain’s authoritative voice of simple cookery. Are you meant to put the eggs into boiling water or cold? Do you boil them or simmer them or turn the heat down so low that they barely stir? I know that you absolutely should—or absolutely should not—put the eggs in the pan straight from the fridge. But I just cannot, will not, remember which it is.
(As it happens, I have just googled how to cook a soft-boiled egg for the millionth time and the trick is to put room-temperature eggs in cool water, bring to the boil, and simmer for 1 minute. Turn off the heat, put a lid on the pan, and leave to sit for precisely 6 minutes for a perfectly runny yolk.)
Somehow out of the gummy white and the rich yolk come buttery sandwich cakes, glazed brioches with a mahogany sheen, and omelets laden with French cheese and tufts of fresh spring herbs, not to mention marshmallows browning over an open flame, sweet-spicy shakshuka, and honey madeleines. An egg can bind, puff, gel, lighten, set, enrich, and garnish everything from chocolate éclairs to velvety crême brulée. Despite egg whites being almost entirely made of water, their 10% of protein makes them capable of whipping into a dense foam: the foundation of everything from sponge cake to meringue. The fattiness of yolks makes them luxuriant and delicious, while a protein in them called lecithin helps to bind oil and water together in mayonnaise, forming an emulsion. I was vegan for just under a year when I first started university, and it was eggs I missed the most: They’re in everything, and they’re magic.
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