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Making yolks: For best results, fresh eggs need a little care

Ari LeVaux, More Content Now | 5/12/2017, 6 a.m.
Freshly laid eggs will elevate any egg-based dish, but the best way to appreciate a quality egg is going to ...
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We egg snobs have it good in spring. Whether we get our eggs from a winter market, a farmer friend, a hen-ranching neighbor or one’s own backyard flock, we get them fresh.

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.

Whites can be useful in places, beaten stiff into meringue or made into various foams. And the combination of white and yolk in scrambled eggs is a thing of perfection. But a choice between eating yolk or white is about has hard has choosing between sun and clouds. Turning one’s back on yolk is like bailing on the possibility of a thrilling life, and choosing the safe road.

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.”

The first time I read this passage I considered quitting reading fiction right there, and retiring at the top. Today, knowing what I know, how tragic it seems that Padre Xantes wasn’t stationed in the Far East.

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.

The trick to peeling

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.

This happens because a young, muscular albumen will cling to the shell’s inner membrane, while a watery old egg white, weakened by acid from dissolved carbon dioxide, has no grip. That’s why fresh egg whites, cracked into a hot pan, will hold a three-dimensional shape, while an old, watery egg will scatter in a thin film.

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 thumbtack 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 yolk. 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.