I remember a few years ago, going to the venerable Alain Ducasse in Paris, sitting amidst all the flounces and gilt Louis XVI furniture in tremulous anticipation, and then being presented with an amuse bouche of a wobbly softboiled egg topped with a tiny mound of shaved truffles.
I took one bite, clutched the Irishman’s arm and squeaked “Jesus, I can’t believe we’re dropping 2 grand to eat kopitiam food!”. For every self-respecting Singaporean would be familiar with that humble homestyle breakfast of 50-cent softboiled eggs, available at kopitiams (coffee stalls) around the island. I would later taste the same dish in Joel Robuchon’s Atelier.
Wobbly eggs have been something of a culinary trend in recent years and I’ve seen them in numerous incarnations, hailed as “the 65 degree C egg” in The Splendid Table’s cookbook which requires the eggs to be baked for hours in a precisely 65 degree C oven, “The 6-minute egg” by the Voltaggio brothers, and of course the French call their version Eggs en Cocotte and bake theirs with cream or gruyere.
But having sampled all of the above, I still yearn for Singapore style softboiled eggs. Quivering gently, as Nigella says “like the inner thigh of a 17th century courtesan”, with just a trail of soy sauce dribbled over the top and a sprinkle of white pepper powder.
It is perfection in its simplicity but devilishly hard to execute. After countless experiments which resulted in a mess of curdled eggs, half-cooked trailing transparent whites and many stomachaches, I can finally announce my formula. It is as follows:
Softboiled eggs – my style
1) Take 2 eggs out of the fridge and either bring them to room temperature by leaving them out on the counter, or by warming them gently under the hot water tap. If they are cold, they will crack when introduced to the boiling water.
2) Boil water on the stove in a pot large enough for the 2 eggs. But not too large that heat would dissipate too quickly. When the water comes to a rolling boil, turn off the flame and leave the pot on the stove.
3) Using a pair of mini-tongs or a large spoon, carefully lower each egg into the water.
4) Small streams of bubbles should now start to emerge from each egg, along with a tiny “eeeee!” sound. Boil some more water in a kettle. You will need it later.
5) After about 8 minutes, the stream of bubbles will slow down and stop. When this happens, tip the water out of the pan and refill it with boiling hot water from the kettle.
6) The eggs should produce micro bubble streams again. Wait another 5 minutes for the eggs to stop making bubbles.
7) Take the eggs out gingerly, run them under the cold water tap and crack them into a bowl. If you are extra cautious or if the eggs are too runny, you could bung the bowl into the microwave for another 10-15 seconds.
8) Devour the eggs with soy sauce and white pepper! Other options include truffles, butter, with asparagus or smoked trout.