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’Tis the Season

How to deal with your egg yolk obsession.

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We egg snobs have it good in spring. Whether we get our eggs from a farmers market, a farmer friend, or one's own backyard flock, we get them fresh. Especially these days.

Most hens slow down or even take an all-out lay-cation during winter. But when spring hits and the world wakes up, the girls get happy and productive.

Freshly laid eggs will elevate any egg-based dish, but the best way to appreciate a quality egg is going to be the simplest. For me, it's all about the yolk, so I take mine soft-boiled.

To the fictional Padre Xantes, from Peter Matthiessen's At Play in the Fields of the Lord, his daily egg yolk was a temporary reprieve from the pious life he had chosen. Padre Xantes kept a special spoon that he used to open his daily soft-boiled egg, "... taking great pains, for the egg was so little cooked that its white was scarcely clouded."

Carefully, with his tongue, Padre Xantes would work the flaccid sphere to the back of his mouth and then try to relax for a moment, "... until, unable to restrain himself a moment longer, he clamped it savagely twixt tongue and palate, uttering as he did so a tiny squeak of pleasure; the yolk exploded in abandon, mounting deliriously toward his sinuses, then sliding past the roots of his tongue into his throat."

Many Asian cultures have a way with barely cooked egg yolks and enough tricks to keep Padre Xantes perspiring through centuries in purgatory. Today, I will discuss how to soft-boil eggs with the brightest, most custardy, molten creamy yolks inside and float them in a dark umami marinade.

ARI LEVAUX
  • Ari LeVaux

Fresh eggs, as usual, are preferable for this job, but in this case they do have a liability: When boiled, they are impossible to peel. The shell breaks into little pieces that stick to the white, pulling chunks of fleshy albumen and leaving a pockmarked moonscape.

There is a fix for this predicament, a process in which all chicken keepers and their associates should be drilled. Literally, you drill a little hole, by twisting a thumb tack or small finish nail between your fingers (or with a real drill) into the wide end of the egg, where there's an air pocket between the shell and the sac that holds the egg. As long as you don't go more than an 1/8-inch past the edge of the shell, you won't poke the inner membrane.

Take your newly drilled, fresh eggs, or your non-drilled, old eggs (at least three weeks old), and carefully place them into a pot of boiling water for six minutes. Immediately transfer them into a bowl of ice water for five minutes. Peel them in water, carefully, as the eggs will be soft beneath the shell.

If you've ever had a fancy bowl of ramen noodle soup with a half-cooked egg inside, that's kind of what we are going for. The dark marinade stains the outside of the egg white, while the inner part of the white remains bright white and the yolk stays golden and gooey.

Here are my two favorite marinades:

For a more Japanese-style: three tablespoons soy sauce; pinch each garlic powder and black pepper; 3/4 cup of water. Optional and recommended: 1 tablespoon dried bonito flakes; 1 sheet of nori, crumbled into little pieces; a few drops of sesame oil.

The Chinese-style marinade that makes me squeak like Padre Xantes: 3 tablespoons soy sauce; 1 tablespoon each bean sauce and hoisin sauce; 2 tablespoons sugar; 1 cup water. Bring briefly to a boil, and then let cool.

In your marinade of choice, submerge the eggs for at least six hours, in a plastic bag or a cup. Eat plain or on hot rice.

You can also gussy up your soft-boiled egg Italian style, with truffle oil and shavings of hard cheese.

Or with less flourish, Padre Xantes-style, with just a pinch of salt.

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