How to Boil an Egg

I’ve been lying in bed since the wee hours, allowing my mind to wander, staring out the window at snow-covered branches, watching night give way to morning.

And I was wondering if I ever taught my sons how to boil an egg.

Do you know how to boil an egg?Life skills inventory

I am running through the litany of life skills I have passed along to my children. How many did I miss? Something as simple as boiling an egg?

And if I missed that, what else?

Did I say “Put eggs in the pot, boil water, give it 5 to 10 minutes and see how that turns out?” Did I resort to my (frequent) smart-ass humor and say “Forget boiling, fry the damn thing; it’s easier?”

Do I actually know how to boil an egg? The 7-minute egg? Or the elusive 3-minute egg with the perfectly runny middle for serving in a European egg cup? I can’t poach worth a damn. Have I deprived my children of the pleasure of the poached egg because I never mastered it?

I generally make eggs over easy, sunny-side up, scrambled eggs, or my son makes his best omelette on the planet. Is that an adequate lineup? Is adequate – well, adequate?

Teaching kids life skills

What other life skills did I inadvertently avoid, or shortchange the details and consequently pass along a half-truth as though whole, a teaser in the name of completeness, or something utterly insufficient to get the job done? Will children fill in the knowledge gaps as they move into adolescence and then adulthood? Or will they unconsciously side step, because they have no foundation?

Last week, a friend came to our home to speak with my son about college and his future. My son asked one very direct question, and our guest’s response was: “I can give you the fish, or I can teach you to fish.”

My kid hadn’t heard that expression before. He smiled broadly and nodded. Of course, he got it. Was that one more thing I hadn’t gotten around to explaining? Was it like boiling an egg? Had I never communicated, through metaphor or otherwise, that to give him the tools for discovery results in a far superior gift than answering every question?

How to boil an egg (or fall in love)

Yes, I learned to hard boil an egg over the years. Trial and error. But I still can’t get that soft boiled egg “just so,” the kind you can place in a porcelain egg cup, crack lightly on the exterior, peel the top, and then savor. You know, the creamy white and the warm, liquid yolk in its own natural container.

Fried egg sunny side up (sunny side is always easy)It’s the same story when it comes to a poached egg. And I adore poached eggs! I suppose it’s like falling in love (and staying that way). You think: this can’t be so hard. Then you learn otherwise. You’re more attentive to the next attempt. And the next. You’re still never quite sure what you’re doing: partial visibility means guesswork; you’re ignorant of the true state of the other’s interior. Timing provides some guidance, and even poking through the cloudy white bits swirling in the pot.

But do we ever master something as simple as cooking an egg? Or parenting? Or being in love? Just the right combination of simmering, time on high heat, environment, observation, intuition? And doesn’t the egg have to cooperate, at least a little? Doesn’t it have to be a “good” egg?

Hard-boiled is always less challenging: you surrender delicacy, vulnerability, the fluid interior. I wonder if I have taught my sons that lesson. And that we need both – hard-boiled and soft.

How to boil an egg

So here’s how I boil an egg.

  • Place eggs in saucepan, fully covered in cold water.
  • Bring to a boil. Leave at full boil for 2 to 3 minutes.
  • Turn down the heat. Continue to boil the eggs another 7 or 8 minutes.
  • Dump out water. Run cold water over the eggs for 5 minutes.
  • Pop them in the fridge.

See? Not wildly specific. And while my hard boiled eggs are edible, I still haven’t mastered the 3-minute egg or the poached egg.

Can you hard boil, soft boil, poach and fry?

So how do you rate yourself on the nutrient-filled fundamentals for your family?

  • Do you worry about life skills you’ve forgotten to impart to your children?
  • Do you worry that you’ve passed along too little information, or sometimes, too much?
  • How do you decide when to give them fish, and when to teach them to fish?


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  1. says

    When I moved out on my own I had to call my mom and ask how long to boil an egg for… she was shocked that I didn’t know how. She was sure I’d seen her do it before. Obviously, I had watched her… but I never knew how long the timer went for or anything like that… she still jokes about me calling home to ask how to boil an egg 😉

  2. says

    My daughter’s favorite breakfast is a “dip dip egg,” which is the soft-boiled egg in the porcelain cup you refer to, with toast cut into little spears for dipping. My mother made this for me, and I’ve passed it on to Grace. Problem is, I can’t ever get the timing right. As you say. It’s elusive, and I am simply not good at figuring out the timing. Alas.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      Ah Lindsey. If you ever get it just right, let me know? I suppose it’s a matter of practice, like so many other things. But still, given my affinity for European men (and they prepare their eggs like this), you’d think I would’ve mastered it, no? (Fortunately, many French men know how to cook, so they’ll just have to be the egg bearers, so to speak, and share the simmering and stirring activities, in the kitchen and elsewhere.)

  3. says

    I’m an egg person. Several years ago, I had to read an article on how to properly boil an egg. Who knew there was a proper time for it? I was preparing an event for a science competition and needed the perfect boiling time. I couldn’t deal with boiling eggs for months after and swore if another event came through with boiled eggs, I wasn’t running that event at my competition!

  4. says

    Try getting that perfect soft boiled egg at high altitude! It’s a sonna bitch! I never can get a consistent egg here.

    I hope you’ve seen Julie and Julia? Her utter bafflement regarding poached eggs is hilarious!

    • BigLittleWolf says

      Oh Kitch! I loved all the “Julia” parts of that film – so spirited and joyful (and funny). And yes – the poached egg drama. (I remember watching Julia Child on PBS, fascinated by her concoctions.) So what is the secret to the soft boiled egg, and the poached egg?? Can’t imagine trying it at your elevation. In fact, everything you cook must be so much more challenging, and require constant tinkering.

  5. says

    When I was sending my son off to college I realized I’d never taught him how to balance a checkbook. That seemed so elementary but he’d never had a checkbook so how would he know? I had him balance mine (an experience unto itself!), which taught him, not only about checkbook balancing but about just exactly how much money it takes to keep this ship afloat!

    No doubt I missed a whole bunch of other equally important lessons. I think the best we can hope for is that we give them a good enough foundation that they can figure the rest out for themselves. If not, there’s always the phone!

  6. says

    This has been my latest obsession; trying to figure out all the things I need to teach them that have nothing to do with school before they leave. Cooking is at the forefront right now.

  7. says

    This is good to think about. I still have a long time to teach my kid(s) life skills. Maybe I should make a list! Thanks for visiting my site this morning. Glad to find you!

  8. says

    I like to do duck eggs–thirty minutes at the most if you want a hard bottom and twenty-five minutes at the least if you want the bottom to be soft. Next is preparing the sauce for the eggs. both, are really simple. Don’t get me wrong though, I like to do recipes that are more elaborate and that require more time and skill to cook. Since I’m the oldest out of six and the only child who is blind, I had to learn most things elsewhere including how to do a resume and how to balance a checkbook which I’m going to have to learn all over again. I may not have Mom or Dad to call when I need to know how long I do french fries for, but I do have my friends-one of them, I did call and ask how long to do french fries for because I usually don’t cook American food. She knows that I can for the most part look after myself, but my questions were scaring her. So, she told me not to touch anything until she got to the house. After she got there, she ended up doing the whole thing for me which was not necessary.

  9. says

    I love it, and I love eggs. I particularly like to poach eggs by bringing water and vinegar to boil in a small saucepan. Crack the egg into a small bowl. Bring the water to a swirling vortex and gently pour the egg into the vortex. The swirling water forms the egg (although there always seems to be ghostly tendrils cosmically swirling around). Three minutes should do it. Remove with slotted spoon and go from there.

    There is definitely something both basic and magical about eggs… it makes sense that teaching our kids how to deal with eggs sets a foundation for dealing with chickens and later with children.


  10. says

    Why do I suddenly feel like making myself an egg sandwich?

    In a bit of a reversal, my dad recently called me to ask me how to cook a hot dog. (Please note that I am a vegetarian and have been for some time. I suppose he was desperate.)

  11. Franco Phile says

    I learned to make the 3-minute soft-boiled egg from my German mother. Of course, the egg-timer helped to keep track of the time.

    The tricky part was cracking the top of the egg open. Years later, I found a device at Cost Plus, which would cut the top off perfectly.

    I still make scrambled eggs for my teenage sons, when they are here.

    For me, one egg is un oeuf.

  12. says

    First of all, Kristen should refer her dad to TKW’s dad’s post about cooking the perfect hotdog…

    Secondly, of course I’m attrocious at cooking everything. I let the eggs boil and then, just to be sure they don’t end up soft-boiled (grew up with European parents who were always serving soft-boiled) I just walk away and end up with a 20-minute egg and no water left in the pot. Nice.

    My husband’s quite the guy for never giving the answers but teaching the kids how to arrive at them. Drives the kids insane!

  13. says

    “But do we ever master something as simple as cooking an egg? Or parenting? Or being in love? Just the right combination of simmering, time on high heat, environment, observation, intuition? And doesn’t the egg have to cooperate, at least a little? Doesn’t it have to be a “good” egg?”

    Compelling string of questions. And, yes, though my girls are still tiny, I worry about these things all the time. I worry about teaching them things they must know. I worry about cooking them into good little people who won’t be cracked by life and the world. [How’s that for carrying on your metaphor? :)]


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