Thursday, May 07, 2009

Boiling an Egg and making lemon curd

Chris posed a question in his comment on the last post. To save you going to find it, here it is:

Out of interest, how do you boil your eggs? For some reason this is seen as the most basic thing you can do in the kitchen, but I have to say producing a perfect boiled egg every time is a tricky affair* and there's many different opinions on the subject. You shouldn't boil them, I know that much. My current method is to put them in a pan of cold water, heat it until the water reaches 85 degrees Celsius and then maintain it at that temperature for 6-7 minutes depending on the size of the egg. Getting the exact formula right is a tricky bugger, as is keeping the water at exactly 85 degrees. I'm going to try a formula whereby you heat the water to 90 and then completely take it off the heat, as I think that will be more reliable.

*By perfect I mean a firm, but not rubbery white, and a runny yolk.

Now, you should know that Chris is a bit of a foodie and knows his stuff when it comes to fannying around creating works of art in the kitchen. (check out his blog for some of his bizarre recipes.) However I'm surprised at the lengths that even Chris will go to to get the perfect boiled egg. Maintaining the water at exactly 85 degrees? surely that's just one step too far in the search for perfection.

I have to admit that my method is this: Boil water, lower egg in on spoon, time using egg timer, remove from water. My eggs are usually really delicious.

I'm wondering if the rubberiness could be something to do with the quality or the age of the raw egg? Not having purchased any eggs for over 3 years it would be interesting to compare our eggs with shop bought ones in a scientific taste test. The eggs I eat are never usually more than a week old, and if I was going to boil one then I'd use one laid that day. I use the older ones for cooking with. However eggs do keep really well, up to 4 weeks I'm told, and supermarket eggs can sometimes be knocking on a bit in age. We have developed a rotational system at home so we always know which order to eat the eggs in.

Having said all this I would doubt that Chris's problem is down to quality as he always buys the best he can.

If I am being honest I would always prefer a poached egg over a boiled egg anyway. And, like Chris, I am constantly searching for the perfect way to poach an egg. We have bought a number of 'poaching' devices, none of which seem to do the job any better than:

swirling the boiling water round in a vortex,
chucking in the egg,
putting on the toast,
taking the egg off the heat
leaving in the water until the toast is done (which is my preferred method of timing the whole process.)

With this method the eggs are not always perfect in appearance, even though they taste divine. The various poaching devices ensure an aesthetically pleasing egg, but increase the chance of rubberiness.

For my current favourite egg-busting recipe look no further than my delicious lemon curd. It is truly fabulous, and a lovely thing to make on a rainy weekend when you can stand and stir and stir and listen to a radio play.

put in a heavy based saucepan:

8 eggs
700gms sugar
200gms butter
juice and zest of 8 lemons

heat very gently stirring all the time for about half an hour, or until it has thickened into curd consistency. Do this very carefully and slowly. If you have the heat too high you will end up with sweet lemon scrambled eggs which might not be that tasty. Pour the finished lemon curd through a sieve and into jars which you have washed and have dried in a very hot oven to kill all beasties. I sterilise the lids by pouring boiling water on them. I don't know if this is the right way to do it but it seems to work for me and my curds and chutneys don't seem to go mouldy.

This recipe will make about 4 or 5 jars, and is amazing on toast, particularly toast made from tesco's walnut bread. Mmmmmmm.


Blogger Chris said...

The reason egg white becomes rubbery (that's probably too strong a word actually) is not down to age or quality, it's down to the protein in the albumen toughening.
Basically the egg white is a massive collection of protein mollecules suspended in water mollecules. Protein mollecules are chains of amino acides held together in a little bundle by the chemical bonds between the amino acids. As it's heated these proteins "denature" or unravel.
Think of it like having lots of seperate little tight bundles of wool in a box. As the box is agitated, they start to unravel and as this happens the individual strands all start to join together in a mass network of fibres. In the egg, the network of protein mollecules caused by the agitation of the mollecules through heating traps the water mollecules in little pockets, preventing it flowing. This is what causes the egg to solidify. And because the protein mollecules have all massed together they deflect light rays, turning it from a transparent albumen into an opaque egg white.
The thing is, if you overcook the egg white basically you end up with too dense a structure. If you go back to the wool analogy, think of it like the difference between a nice light comfy woollen scarf versus something like felt where the fibres are all closely packed together.

The age of the egg though really does apply to poaching, and I think that's why I have so little success poaching. As an egg ages it's albumen gets thinner and thinner. If I went to the shop and bought the latest dated locally sourced egg and took it home and poached it immediatley, it would probably be fine, but anything that's been sat in the fridge for a day or too seems useless.

7:43 PM  
Blogger Nick said...

All that science is getting in the way of the simple truth: you need to get some chickens.

7:51 AM  
Anonymous The Pedant (no prizes for guessing) said...

Repeat after me:


Sorry - I can't help it.

12:20 PM  
Blogger Eleanor said...

I wouldn't normally dare disagree with Chris, but I'd have a hard time believing that age wouldn't have an impact on the egg white when boiled, although I've no evidence for this, anecdotal or scientific. What I DO have on good authority is that you can't hard boil a really fresh egg - the yolk will never harden and always stay deliciously soft/runny. However good the quality of eggs you buy in shops they're always going to be older that ones you get from your garden. At the moment I'm enjoying eating baby spinach that's only been harvested a maximum of 3 minutes - yum.

11:53 AM  

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