You can’t get any closer to a classic Singaporean breakfast than a pair of soft boiled eggs served in a saucer dressed with dark soy sauce and a dash of pepper. Break the yolk and mix it all up, slurp it all down in one breath, wipe up the excess with some fresh bread and wash it all down with a cup of kopi. Ahhhhhh….. you have just swallowed 426mg of cholesterol (recommended daily intake is 300mg).
No, that Ahhh…. did not come from me. I hate soft boil eggs. BUT, I am fascinated with the whole kopitiam culture surrounding soft boiled eggs. What is the big deal with soft boiled eggs anyway, you can make these at home by simply submerging some eggs in hot boiling water right? Well, not quite. The fact is that not everyone can make perfect soft boiled eggs. But before I go into detail about how the kopitiam uncle achieved his perfect soft boil eggs, let me say something about eggs and cholesterol.
You have probably heard that egg yolks contain high levels of cholesterol (213mg per egg) so you need to control your intake of eggs or else you are going to die of a heart attack. Well, that is old news. In the last few years, evidence has emerged that it is not actually the consumption of cholesterol rich foods that increase blood cholesterol levels but the consumption of saturated fats. So if you simply have two soft boiled eggs, that is fine. But if you have your soft boiled eggs with a slab of butter and kaya, then maybe it is not so fine. Worse if you are having fried eggs, bacon and toast with butter. So the devil is not the egg but the company it keeps. Of course, if you already have high cholesterol levels, that means your body already has problems getting rid of cholesterol. In that case, you should listen to your doctor and avoid egg yolks.
Back to the story of how to get your perfect soft boil egg. First let’s understand how we define a perfect soft boiled egg. In the Singaporean context, a perfect soft boiled egg is defined as an egg where the yolk is still runny but is coddled by a cloudy egg white and the whole thing still retains its oval egg shape. In order to achieve this you have to remember that there are two forms of protein in egg white. One called ovotransferrin which sets at 62-65 degrees Celsius and the other, known as ovalbumin that sets at 80 degrees Celsius. The yolk begins to thicken at 65 degrees and sets at 70 degrees. So what the Kopitiam uncle tries to do is to get the whites to a temperature of around 65-70 degrees without the yolk reaching 65 degrees Celsius. This is achievable because heat takes time to penetrate the egg, so the outer temperature of the egg is higher than the core temperature.
The uncle tells me that he has been doing this for 30 years. All you need to do is to use a metal mug, place two eggs inside at room temperture and pour boiling water to cover them and wait five minutes and give them an occasional stir. The stirring is important, as it keeps the yolk in the middle of the egg so that the white gets cooked evenly before the yolk. When I asked him how he keeps time, he simply smiles and says it is all in his head. But pressed a bit more, he tells me that he can roughly tell by the bubbles that escape from the egg while it is cooking. When the bubbles start to slow down, then the eggs are almost ready!
As I said before, I hate soft boiled eggs but I can appreciate and admire the skill that went into making this pair of perfectly cooked soft boiled eggs. So I have to give him a 4.5/5 just based on technique alone. I am sure that the soft boiled egg lovers would agree that his eggs are nearly perfect.
So, do you like soft boiled eggs? Do you have your own special technique to make these yourself? Where do you get your perfect soft boiled eggs?
Mei Tien Yuen coffeeshop