The perfect soft-boiled egg should have firm, custard-like whites and a warm, runny yolk — this is what my host mother taught me when I lived with her family in France for a summer in high school, and it's still the standard to which I hold my soft-boiled eggs today. An egg like this is just right for scooping daintily from the shell and eating with buttered toast soldiers, an experience that always feels simultaneously sophisticated and happily childlike to me.
Making soft-boiled eggs might feel slightly trickier than hard-boiled eggs, but it's nothing that can't be mastered in the space of a Saturday morning! Here's a step-by-step tutorial to teach you exactly what to do.
Timing the Perfect Soft-Boiled Egg
A good soft-boiled egg really comes down to timing. Bring the water up to a boil, then lower it to a rapid simmer. Add the eggs to the pot, and then begin timing. If you're just cooking one or two eggs, five minutes is perfect for a runny yolk, or cook as long as seven minutes for a more firmly set, but still spoonable, yolk. If you're cooking three or four eggs, add an extra few seconds to your timing. (More than four eggs, and I would recommend cooking in batches.)
Don't just glance at the clock to time your eggs — set a timer. Using a timer is the best way to get consistent results.
Serving Soft-Boiled Eggs
Soft-boiled eggs are their own little breakfast package. Nestle your egg in an egg cup, and then use the edge of a knife to gently tap the egg all the way around the top. If you have an egg-cutter, you can use that, too. Pull off the top and dig in.
You can use a spoon to scoop out the insides or dip your toast soldiers right into the yolk. Either way, eat the egg while it's still warm and runny!
No Egg Cup? Try This Trick!
If you don't have an actual egg cup, here's an idea: Fill a small ramekin with a few tablespoons of rice or other uncooked grain and nestle your soft-boiled egg inside. Works like a charm, and as long as you manage to avoid egg drips, you can reuse the rice again and again.
Soft-boil up to four eggs a time.
How To Make a Soft-Boiled Egg
Makes 1 to 4 soft-boiled eggs
What You Need
1 to 4 large eggs, cold from the fridge
Dinner knife, paring knife, or egg-cutter
Bring water to a boil: Fill a saucepan with a few inches of water and set it over high heat. Let the water come to a rolling boil.
Reduce the water to a rapid simmer: Lower the heat and let the water reduce to a rapid simmer.
- Gently lower the eggs into the water one at a time.
Cook the eggs for 5 to 7 minutes: For 1 to 2 eggs, cook 5 minutes for a very runny yolk or up to 7 minutes for a barely-set yolk. For 3 or 4 eggs, add a few extra seconds to your timing. (For more than 4 eggs, cook in batches.)
Remove the eggs with a slotted spoon. Run under cold tap water for 30 to 60 seconds.
Remove the top off the egg: Set the egg upright in an egg cup or a small ramekin filled with rice. To remove the cap, use the edge of a knife to gently tap around the top or use an egg-cutter.
Eat while the egg is warm! Eat the egg straight from the shell with a small spoon or toast for dipping. More firmly cooked eggs can be cracked (carefully!), peeled like a hard-boiled egg, and served on toast.
Cold-water method: Another method for cooking soft-boiled eggs follows our hard-boiled egg method. For soft-boiled eggs, simply steep them in the hot water for less time. (We find this method a little less consistent than the method above, but it's handy for cooking a large batch of eggs at once.)
(Image credits: Kelli Dunn)