Preparing a perfect boiled egg demands the skill of a lifetime and is in the end, always a question of chance, no matter the degree of art or science dedicated to it.
I’m speaking, of course, of a soft-boiled egg. In my childhood home, ‘a boiled egg’ always meant that, otherwise it was a ‘hard-boiled’ egg, to be sliced in a salad or mashed with chopped tomato for a sandwich made with cheap white Sunblest sliced bread.
Opening the egg, therefore, is always a revelation. The softness of the yolk, the firmness of the white and therefore the degree of perfection of the egg-eater’s experience, will always be out of our hands. The age and size of the egg, the depth of water in the pan, the type and fierceness of the heat source, the precision of the timing – all these, and merely the mystery of the inexplicable - will determine whether the egg is a delight, a disappointment or just run-of-the-mill.
She holds the side of the egg firmly in place in the egg cup, despite feeling the uncomfortable heat on her finger and thumb. She jabs the side with the tip of the spoon, swiftly and firmly, just where the curve begins to straighten out slightly. Sometimes several attacks are needed: too many and it’s already clear that the egg is overcooked; too few and the liquid white will escape slimily over her thumb and finger.
She levers the egg top off and flips it over, sprinkling over it a few grains of salt from the little glass pot. Some grains stick to her finger and thumb and she licks them off. The taste is direct, intense and she feels she is wrong to take salt into her mouth so unmediated, so undiluted. She scoops out the contents of the shell lid, scraping close to make sure she has it all out.
Now for the egg itself. The shell is cleanly broken, other than the crumbly bits where her spoon made its entry. She lifts one of the fingers of toast, a little floppy, a little soggy. It’s grainy brown with a small pool of soft pale butter. She brings it to the open mouth of the egg supporting it slightly to strengthen it enough to bear down into the yolk. Pressing a corner into the patina of the yolk which has formed with exposure to the air, she gives it a slight twist to break through to the softer gold beneath. Slowly she lowers the end of the finger and then lifts it, coated generously but not too much. To reach her mouth without dripping, wasted on the plate, where manners dictate she must not lick it up.
The viscuous yolk mingles in her mouth with the silky butter, the toast a mere supporting player. It will not get better than this. No second immersion can be as rich, as smooth, as satisfying.