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Master Class with "the Food Lab"

Hilary Deutsch

June 15, 2016

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J. Kenji López-Alt, managing culinary director at Serious Eats, knows a thing or two about the science of cooking. His nearly 1,000-page tome, The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science, demystifies common culinary blunders with over 300 detailed recipes and recently earned a 2016 Beard Award. Below, the modern home-cooking maestro shares his tips for achieving the perfect soft-boiled yolk and his advice on avoiding common egg mistakes. 

Foolproof Soft-Boiled Eggs

1 to 3 minutes

Description
Outer white set just enough to allow egg to retain its shape when carefully peeled.

Best Uses
I use 1- or 2-minute eggs when I’m tossing the eggs with salad or pasta where the uncooked 
egg will emulsify with other ingredients; they’re not pleasant to eat on their own.

4 minutes

Description
White is opaque nearly all the way through but retains a bit of translucency next to the yolk; yolk is barely warm and completely raw.

Best Uses
Serve as a topping to vegetables or grains; place on top of blanched asparagus or green beans or in a bowl of noodle soup.

5 minutes

Description
White is opaque but still quivering and barely set toward the yolk; yolk is warm but completely raw.

Best Uses
Breakfast

6 minutes

Description
White is opaque, firm all the way through; yolk is warm and starting to firm up at the edges.

Best Uses
Breakfast

7 minutes

Description
White is fully cooked and as hard as that of a hard-boiled egg; yolk is golden and liquid in the center but beginning to set around the edges.

Best Uses
Breakfast

What are the top three mistakes you see when people cook eggs, and how would you correct them?

  • The first is not salting eggs at the right time. I’ve seen many people—including famous chefs—say that scrambled eggs or omelets shouldn’t be salted until the last moment or even after cooking because salt can make the eggs tough. In fact the opposite is the case! Salt your beaten eggs at least 10 to 15 minutes in advance and they will be more tender and retain moisture better as they cook.
  • Speaking of cooking eggs, it’s important to get them out of the hot pan a little before you think they are finished; residual heat will cook them through. The golden rule is: if scrambled eggs are perfectly cooked in the pan, they’re overcooked on your plate. 
  • Finally, some folks like to cover eggs with cold water and bring them to a boil for hard- or soft-boiled eggs. This is a great way to ensure that the white is going to fuse to the shell as it cooks and make the egg difficult to peel. Start boiled eggs in already-boiling water to increase the odds of easy peeling. Better yet, place them on a steamer insert in a covered pot with a half-inch of boiling water and steam them to perfection; 12 minutes will give you perfect hard-cooked eggs that aren’t rubbery or chalky.

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Image and adapted recipe from The Food Lab by J. Kenji López-Alt. Copyright © 2015 by J. Kenji López-Alt. With permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.

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Breakfast