Leiths School of Food and Wine
17 recipes
Published by
Quadrille Publishing
Peter Cassidy

A simple egg can be a dish in itself, embellished or left plain; boiled, fried, poached or scrambled. But that’s only the beginning: eggs also play a vital role in cooking. Their ability to bind, thicken, set, enrich, leaven, clarify, emulsify and colour makes them a vital component in many savoury and sweet dishes. The common hen’s egg is by far the most popular and most widely used in cooking. You may also come across duck and quail eggs. Duck eggs are larger than hen’s eggs and have a richer and creamier taste, while delicate quail eggs are prized for their diminutive size and attractive speckled shells.

Boiled eggs

There are two ways to boil an egg: starting either in cold or simmering water. Whichever way you do it, the size of the egg will make a difference to the timings, so adjust for smaller or larger eggs (the timings below are for medium eggs).

Adding to simmering water

Remove the eggs from the fridge at least 15 minutes before cooking, or the shells may crack when they go into the water. Bring a saucepan of water to a simmer over a medium heat. Carefully lower the eggs into the pan using a tablespoon, ensuring they are covered with water. Time your eggs from the point the water begins to simmer, cooking them at a gentle simmer.

As soon as soft- (or medium-soft-) boiled eggs are cool enough to handle, place in egg cups and tap around the shell with a teaspoon or the back of a knife to crack it, then peel off the top. Cut a slice off the top of the egg so you can dip toast soldiers into the warm soft yolk.

For hard-boiled eggs, tap them on a work surface to crack the shells, then peel.

–Soft-boiled egg: Allow 3½–4½ minutes.

–Medium soft-boiled egg: Allow 5–6½ minutes.

–Hard-boiled egg: Allow 8–9 minutes.

Adding eggs to cold water

Carefully place the eggs in a saucepan filled with enough cold water to cover them. Place the saucepan over a medium heat and bring to a simmer. Time your egg from the point the water begins to simmer (the first small bubbles rise), cooking them at a gentle simmer for ½–1 minute for a soft-boiled egg, 1½–2 minutes for a medium soft-boiled egg and 3–3½ minutes for a hard-boiled egg. Drain them as soon as the cooking time is up and run them under cold running water until just cool enough to peel, or until completely cold if you are serving the eggs cold.

A note on egg safety…

Eggs should always be kept in a cold place to retard bacterial growth, as they are susceptible to salmonella bacteria. However, some recipes, such as mayonnaise-based sauces or cakes, call for eggs at room temperature, so they should be removed from the fridge in time to lose their chill.

Thorough cooking kills bacteria, but anyone particularly vulnerable to contamination, such the young, old or infirm, and pregnant women, should avoid dishes involving raw or partly cooked eggs.

Egg whites

Egg whites perfectly display the role that science plays in cooking. Their magical ability to transform into pillows of white foam, adding lightness and volume to savoury dishes and desserts, makes them an essential ingredient. Learning how to use them effectively opens the door to many culinary skills.

Separating eggs

1. To separate an egg, crack the egg on the edge of a table or use a cutlery knife. Avoid too much pressure or you will break the egg in half. You only want to crack the shell. Now carefully ease apart the shell halves over a medium to large bowl. Some of the white will fall into the bowl; it is important that none of the yolk does.

2. Hold the yolk in one half of the shell, if necessary tilting your hands to ensure the yolk is captured in the shell. Now carefully move the yolk between the shell halves, which will encourage the white to fall into the bowl.

3. Once most or all of the white is in the bowl, all that may be left on the yolk is the ‘chalaza’, or thread. Carefully use the edge of one side of the shell to prise or cut it away from the yolk, allowing it to fall into the bowl. Transfer the yolk to another small bowl.

Storing egg yolks

Unless using immediately, closely cover the egg yolk(s) with cling film to prevent them from drying out and refrigerate; they will keep for up to 3 days.

Whisking egg whites

The constant beating of egg whites is necessary to create a fine, even texture, incorporating as much air as possible. To achieve more stable whisked whites, start whisking slowly to create small bubbles of air, then gradually increase the speed of whisking. As more air is incorporated, the consistency of the egg whites will change. Egg whites are used at different stages of whisking for different purposes, so it helps to be able to recognise the consistency at different stages.

Egg whites should be whisked in scrupulously clean bowls, free from any fat, which can prevent the whites from whisking properly. A copper bowl is ideal, as the metal reacts with egg whites to produce a very stable foam. Otherwise, choose stainless steel or glass, but avoid plastic bowls which tend to trap grease.

As a general rule, unless specified, whisk egg whites to the same consistency as the mixture to which they are being added. Like consistencies will combine more easily and efficiently with minimal loss of volume.

Identifying the different ‘peaking’ stages of whisking

Egg whites should usually be whisked just before you need to use them; once whisked they should not be left to sit for any length of time or they will separate and begin to collapse.

1. Using a large fine balloon whisk, start to whisk the egg whites in the bowl. Lifting the whisk up and over the whites is more effective and incorporates more air than just a stirring action.

2. As more air is incorporated the whites will become slightly foamy, opaque and very thin. Continue whisking and they will increase in volume, becoming white and foamy. Early on, if you lift the whisk vertically upwards and then turn it upside down, the whites will not hold their shape and will fall from the whisk.

3. Continue whisking and the whites will become a little paler and stiffer.

4. As the whites stiffen a little more, test them again by lifting the balloon whisk vertically, then turning the whisk upside down. If the whites cling to the whisk and start to create a ‘peak’, but the peak falls over on itself, the egg whites have reached the ‘soft peak’ stage.

5. If firmer whites are required, whisk for a little longer then test again by lifting the whisk; the whites will definitely cling to the whisk and, as it is pulled up vertically and turned upside down, the clinging whites will start to fall over onto themselves, then stop halfway. This is known as the ‘medium peak’ stage and is ideal for soufflés and mousses.

6. Continue to whisk again; the whites will become very stiff and when tested the peak will hold its vertical position and not fall over on itself. This is known as the ‘stiff peak’ stage and is the required consistency for meringues and for sweet soufflés where the egg whites are meringued. At this stage there is still some elasticity in the whites.

A note on over-whisking...

Further whisking would cause the whites to become too stiff and they would ‘break’ when pulled away on the whisk.

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