Do you love a soft-boiled egg with a delicate runny yolk? So do I! This foolproof technique from Cook’s Illustrated demonstrates how to make soft-boiled eggs perfectly every single time. As it turns out, the trick is in the steam.
I’ve mentioned before that I’m a bit obsessed with the geniuses behind Cook’s Illustrated and America’s Test Kitchen. Every recipe and technique I’ve tried from them has been fantastic. My recipe for banana bread muffins was adapted from one of their cookbooks, as was my slow cooker meatballs and marinara recipe.
Cook’s Illustrated is a valuable cooking magazine in so many ways. Each issue is an absolute treasure trove of knowledge. They share not only recipes but also tips, product reviews and extensively tested techniques.
Recently I tried their technique from the January/February 2013 issue for making perfect oven-roasted shrimp, and they were perfection. The same issue had several pages dedicated to the challenge of how to soft boil an egg. It’s a skill I struggled with for years when I was first learning to cook.
The Science Behind Soft-Boiled Eggs
How do you achieve perfectly set whites while maintaining runny yolks? Is it possible to create a scalable recipe that has the exact same instructions regardless of whether 1, 4 or 6 eggs are used?
The reason this is complicated is because egg whites must reach 180 degrees F in order to set, while the yolks must stay below 158 degrees F in order to stay runny. This presents obvious challenges, as it’s very easy to either overcook the yolks or undercook the whites.
After soft-boiling more than 1000 eggs in their test kitchen, they discovered the perfect technique. The key is steam. The problem with the traditional method is that cold eggs cool down the boiling water. So the more eggs you add, the longer it takes to cook them properly.
But steam will stay at 212 degrees F regardless of how many eggs are added to the pot! Kind of genius, right? It works every time; fully set tender whites and rich, runny yolks. You can use a steamer if you have one but it’s also easy to apply this technique with a standard saucepan and cover.
How to Soft-Boil an Egg
This tried-and-tested method will result in perfect soft-boiled eggs every single time. To make a soft-boiled egg, add 1/2 inch of water to a medium saucepan and bring to a boil.
Use tongs to take eggs directly from the refrigerator and lay them at the bottom of the saucepan. Cover the saucepan and let the eggs steam.
After the eggs have finished steaming, run cold water into the pan to prevent the eggs from cooking further.
How Long Should You Cook a Soft-Boiled Egg?
The cook time for these soft-boiled eggs is exactly 6 1/2 minutes. You’ll need to set a timer, and try not to wander too far from the stove. As soon as the timer goes off you need to immediately rinse the eggs in cold water. If you fail to do this, the eggs will continue cooking and may go past the soft-boiled stage.
How to Peel Soft-Boiled Eggs
The easiest way to peel a soft-boiled egg is to gently crack it all over with a spoon. Use your fingers to peel the eggshell off, beginning at the fattest part of the egg.
If you’d like to avoid peeling the egg altogether, cut the top off and scoop the insides out with a spoon. Or dunk a piece of toast into the gooey egg yolk and enjoy your eggs that way.
Tips for the Perfect Soft-Boiled Egg
- Be very gentle when placing the raw eggs in the saucepan. You don’t want to accidentally crack an egg!
- Once the raw eggs have been placed in the saucepan, do not adjust the heat level whatsoever.
- You can add as many eggs into the saucepan as you’d like, but make sure to cook them in a single layer. If you stack the eggs, you won’t achieve the same results.
Ways to Enjoy Soft-Boiled Eggs
I like to serve soft-boiled eggs sliced lengthwise on salads (such as this Arugula Salad with Soft Boiled Eggs, Bacon, and Shallot Dijon Vinaigrette), or in an egg cup with toast or steamed asparagus. Soft-boiled eggs are also delicious atop bowls of ramen, savory oatmeal, and fried rice.
More Easy Egg Recipes:
Perfect Soft-Boiled Eggs
- 1-6 large or extra large eggs (use more or less as needed)
- salt and ground black pepper to taste
- Add 1/2 inch of water to a medium or large saucepan, and bring the water to a boil on medium-high heat.
- Take the eggs directly from the refrigerator. Use tongs to VERY gently lay the eggs in the bottom of the pan.
- Cover and allow the eggs to steam for 6 1/2 minutes. Do not adjust the heat level.
- Run cold water into the pan for 30 seconds to halt the cooking process. Peel and serve immediately.
Please read my full post for additional recipe notes, tips, and serving suggestions!
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